A massive shortage of families for Oklahoma foster children exists.

Few entities withstood the coronavirus pandemic unblemished. Restaurants struggled, personal care services were hurt and the travel industry was brought to a halt. Most segments of society have recovered. Some are thriving. But some ― including foster care ― are still struggling.

This is especially true in Oklahoma. In a state that is ranked 46th for child well-being, there is a massive shortage of families taking in foster children.

It’s not for a lack of attention. In 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services began working on a plan to streamline the placement process, remove hurdles and reduce bureaucracy. It encompassed every facet of the process, from federal to local, including caseworkers, the legal system and recruitment efforts. It’s an impressive piece of work — a rewrite of the entire, complicated, unwieldy system.

Here’s the sad irony. The same issues we faced 10 years ago are the same issues we face now. And while the gears are slowly grinding, and positive changes have occurred, the need for foster families to help our children in state custody is still there. Failure to meet recruitment goals has created an environment where children in need of a safe place are left waiting.

Which puts us here:

For the fiscal year 2023-24, DHS established a goal for 735 new foster homes. More than halfway through, only 180 new homes have been opened that meet the criteria of the Pinnacle Plan.

Making matters worse, last year 731 foster homes were closed leaving a net loss of more than 80 foster homes. Ideally, there would be three available homes for every one child, giving the child options for the best placement. Instead, we are left just needing qualified homes.

Too many things are dubbed a “crisis.” This truly is a crisis.

How do we increase foster homes?

Fortunately, this is not a crisis without a solution. True to its intent, the Pinnacle Plan allows nonprofits like Anna’s House Foundation and others to streamline the process for those who want to become foster parents. The plan allows agencies to provide enhanced support services to foster parents such as resources, training and mental health support.

With a full pipeline of prospective families, the number of children waiting for foster homes will drastically reduce. There is one caveat to this system working: We need more foster homes.

Is it easy? Not always. But it’s worth it. In a survey of our foster parents last year, many described being a foster parent as one of the hardest — yet most rewarding — challenges they’ve had in their lives. Many have become long-term supporters and advocates. Several have fostered multiple children. And many of them have become part of our faith-based agency because they view it as a calling.

Emotional needs have become stronger in the last few years, and that includes for foster children. But with the community of support that’s now available to foster homes — and an expedited, more efficient system ― we’re certain to soon hold up our foster system as an example of the Oklahoma Standard.

  • Katherine Craig, Executive Director of Anna’s House Foundation. Source: The Oklahoman.