May Is National Foster Care Month. This is a time we spotlight the need for foster care families and recognize the children in care. However, every month there are children in need and every month we can play a part in improving the lives of those youth in foster care. The average age of a child in care is 9 years old and most children remain in care for two years. According to Oklahoma Fosters Initiative, there are nearly 9,600 Oklahoma children in state custody. Between 45-55 percent coming into foster care need recruited foster homes. Minority homes are especially needed.
“It's not that there are more minorities than Caucasian children in Oklahoma, it’s that we just do not have enough minority homes,” said Lana Freeman, recruiter and trainer for Saint Francis Community Services and a foster/adoptive parent for more than 33 years.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services data source, in Oklahoma County alone there are 553 African American and Hispanic children in DHS custody who are placed in foster homes. There are only 439 African American and Hispanic foster homes available in Oklahoma County.
“We need enough foster care homes so that the children have a choice,” said Jennifer Boyer, programs supervisor for Oklahoma Successful Adulthood Program with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
One of child welfare’s practice standards is maintaining a child’s permanent connection to kin, culture and community.
“We have to put children in the homes that are available to them,” Boyer said, “not necessarily the best option for them.”
Taking a child out of a rural community and placing them in a metropolitan area or taking a Spanish-speaking child and putting them in a home that is not their primary language both are examples of disrupting community and culture.
“We believe in conserving the culture of the children,” Boyer said, “but we are limited in our options.”
Many people feel called to provide a loving home for a child in care, but aren’t sure what to do with that calling and find it difficult to take that final leap to becoming a foster parent. Before considering fostering, Freeman suggests prospective foster parents ask themselves these questions:
- Can you love a foster child as your own?
- Do you have the time and resources to parent a challenged child?
- Are you a team player?
- How would you react to having social workers, therapist, and birth parents prying into your marriage, family and personal background?
- One of the central questions prospective foster families may ask themselves is, how do I successfully bring a foster child into my existing family?
“You get as much information about that child as you possibly can,” Freeman said, “You prepare yourself and your family with classes, training and a network of supportive people.”
It is important for prospective foster families to know there are many resources and support services available to them. Saint Francis Community Services makes sure that all their families feel needed and supported by supporting the entire family, not just the kids.
“We make sure we train our families for the difficult job we know that they will do,” Freeman said.
Some of the support they provide includes monthly support group meetings, taking phone calls at all hours, going to court with the family and attending DHS team meetings. Saint Francis Community Services also shows appreciation and recognition for the families with back-to-school and Christmas parties for the entire family.
“In other words, we try to treat them like we ourselves would want to be treated,” said Freeman.
A resource worker is assigned to each family and visits with them one to two times per month, but the whole Saint Francis Community Services staff is available when needed.
If you have considered becoming a foster parent, it can be difficult to know where and how to start. When you begin searching for a foster care agency, here are a few questions Freeman suggests asking to make sure the agency is right for you:
- What makes you different?
- How can you support me?
- How can you support the kids in my home?
- What resources do you have available?
Many potential foster families choose Saint Francis Community Services because they are faith-based. However, a prospective foster family does not have to be a member of a faith-based organization to become a foster parent with Saint Francis Community Services. They recruit families who will love and take a child into their home.
“Many pick us because they have heard how we treat our families,” Freeman said, “It's important that we strive for excellence.”
Saint Francis Community Services has been a loving supportive foster care agency since 1945; their goal is to recruit, train and support foster homes so that they can nurture and support the approximate 10,000 children in the Oklahoma foster care system.
If you are interested in becoming a foster parent and want to learn more, Saint Francis Community Services is available to answer your questions and give you the information needed to help you on your journey. They have workers who know the procedures and the system and will support you during the process. Call 405-607-2044 and they will be happy to help you.
“Get as much information as possible before you decide to be a foster family, but don't be afraid,” said Freeman. “Yes, foster parenting is difficult but it’s also one of the most rewarding things you will ever do… just take the first step!”