Historically, the black community has turned to its neighborhood church for guidance and leadership. That's why, in 1980, Father George Clements began to use Chicago-area churches to educate their parishioners about the need for foster and adoptive parents for black children.
In 1979, 70 percent of children waiting to be adopted were black. Clements was a Catholic pastor in one of the largest predominantly black churches in the city and had ties to black pastors of Baptist and Methodist churches with whom he partnered on his new project, called One Church, One Child.
The goal of the program, which worked in conjunction with Illinois's Department of Children and Family Services, was to find one family in every black church in Illinois to adopt one child.
The program's efforts were successful, and by the early 1990s, more than 35 states had begun their own One Church, One Child programs.
One Church, One Child of Oklahoma is a 17-year-old program, sponsored by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, with offices in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
The organization's main goals are to provide information to black congregations about the need for black foster and adoptive parents, to dispel myths and misconceptions regarding the foster care and adoption processes and to increase the number of black children placed in permanent homes who were in state's custody.
About one-third of the 5,389 children living in DHS foster care are black, said Barbara Crawford, a recruiter for One Church One Child of Oklahoma.
"We want to make sure those children have a home and a family," she said.
The organization's recruiters work with partner churches, presenting information to their congregations before Sunday morning services and staying through the service to provide additional information and answer questions. They also work with community organizations and set up displays at various events, such as Tulsa Community College's recent North Tulsa SummerFest.
Crawford said it's important to encourage black families to adopt and/or foster children because they help keep those children connected to their culture.
"In addition to knowing about their culture, they (the black parents) know what they need and how to handle them," she said.
But because most people lack knowledge about the needs of the children in foster care and the process of fostering or adopting, One Church, One Child sets about informing people through their churches and community organizations and recruiting Bridge Resource Families.
A Bridge Resource Family may provide temporary care for a child while DHS attempts to either reunite the child with his or her biological parents or find a permanent adoptive home; serve as a child's legal guardian while maintaining the child's connection to his kin, culture and community; or adopt a child and maintain his connection to his kin, culture and community.
Those who wish to become Bridge Resource Families must be at least 21 and preferably no more than 55 years older than the child considered for placement, submit fingerprints for each household member older than the age of 18 for state and national criminal background checks, submit to an OKDHS background check, ensure that no member of the household has been convicted of a sexual offense, attend 27 hours of pre-serve training, have sufficient income to meet current expenses, be in good physical and mental health, be legal residents, have a working vehicle and telephone, provide information for a family assessment and provide sufficient beds and bedrooms for additional children. Marital status is not a factor.
Once families have been recruited by One Church, One Child to act as adoptive or foster parents, they follow through with DHS.
One Church, One Child is a nonprofit organization governed by an interdenominational, 21-member board of directors comprised of clergy from across the state. It also receives supportive services from an advisory committee, comprised of volunteers across the state.
In addition to increasing the number of black children placed in black homes, the program has also been successful in increasing the number of black families willing to adopt children with special needs, according to One Church, One Child of Oklahoma literature.
On Sunday, Nov. 22, the organization will host One Church, One Child Sunday, where representatives will appear at area churches simultaneously, asking the pastors of those congregations to pray for and endorse the program and encourage their membership to consider fostering and/or adopting a child.
In addition, the recruiters will ask each member of the congregation to donate $1 to the program to enable it to continue carrying out its mission.
Crawford said the group is also creating a Facebook page so that any community member who wishes to can donate to the cause.
"It's not limited to $1," Crawford said. "We're asking for $1, but people can donate more."
Also, as part of National Adoption Awareness Month, One Church, One Child of Oklahoma has embarked on a campaign to place 30 children with 30 families in 30 days, or before the end of December.
Those interested in learning more about or donating to the organization can call 794-7536 or visit www.onechurchonechildokla.com.
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