POSTED ON NOVEMBER 16, 2011:
Fostering an Initiative
Children deserve better than they are getting. So, what can we do?
8046 It's just another number, another statistic unless we pause and consider the human side and hear the cry of the children.
According to the agencies who care for them, there are approximately 8,046 little ones in OKDHS protective custody in the state of Oklahoma as of Jan. 2, 2011. It is a number, a big number. But not an insurmountable number if everyone reading this article would consider what he or she could do to help reduce the number. It's not like the national debt -- it's much more valuable. What if, maybe, one of these children became the next Steve Jobs or, even better, someone who could bring more jobs to Oklahoma?
The need is enormous, and resources in Oklahoma are slim, but the problem is only as big as the lack of awareness. What if...
Dickens of A Problem
The latest reports given by UNICEF stated that there are currently 143 million orphans worldwide. In the United States there are an estimated 450,000 children in orphan care. Of those, nearly 120,000 are currently available for adoption waiting for a family to come forward -- or in many instances, the system to be more cooperative.
For it is still way too expensive and way too convoluted for many to adopt. Certainly processes must be in place for the safety of children, but adoption costs can be several thousands of dollars and the wait time can be from 1-2 years or more, besides all the heart-rending uncertainties.
According to Deborah Shropshire, Medical Director for the children and family services division of OKOKDHS, there are an estimated 60,000 reports of child mistreatment in Oklahoma every year. While there are many reasons why, it is believed that nearly 80 to 85 percent are due to child neglect.
It becomes glaringly obvious that while OKDHS is an essential part of the helping equation, the needs are much greater than what any government agency can provide. A government agency can identify these children in need, get them to a safe place, and attempt to get them back into the home, but they can't be the family. They are incapable, in this contrived setting, of being able to provide the mom and dad family stability and structure that these kids so desperately need and long for.
Here's where the numbers get a little less abstract and a little more tangible for Tulsa. According to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, there are nearly 1,400 children in OKDHS custody in Tulsa County; 253 of whom are in state emergency shelters and 58 children in the Laura Dester Emergency Children's Shelter in Tulsa.
While a city Tulsa's size may not be able to take on 143 million orphans worldwide, it can mount an initiative to care for 58 who are housed within city limits.
Walk a Mile In Their Shoes
Stop for a moment and imagine being removed from the only place you have ever known. Take a minute and step into the world of the family-less.
According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the national average for length of stay in OKDHS custody is 28.6 months. While 52 percent of the children leaving the OKDHS system are reunified with their birth parent(s) or primary caregiver that means 48 percent are either adopted or eventually aged out of the system.
Nevertheless, over half of the children in the system spend at least one year away from their home. What happens during that one year plays a huge role in their future and their development.
Most can't imagine the emotional impact the average child in foster care has to face. For many, in transition between a birth home and transitional care, they are handed a trash bag and given a few minutes to take whatever can fit in the bag. Okay, it's time to leave. You'll be fine.
According to OKDHS, most children are removed from their families due to abuse, neglect, extreme poverty or abandonment and they are leaving the only place they have ever known. Overwhelmed with questions and confusion they are pulled from their homes and in a matter of moments they enter into a world with which they are completely unfamiliar.
Taken to a "shelter," children are introduced to strangers, more than likely split up from their siblings, and given a shower and a meal. As they lay their head down that night they can't help but wonder, 'will I be going home tomorrow or maybe the next day?' Unfortunately, it's all too frequent that days turn into weeks and even months.
This is story that is playing out almost every single day in our city and around the world.
On October 27, leaders, influencers, and care givers from Oklahoma came together in Tulsa for the 8046 Conference. Sponsored by OKDHS, FaithLinks Oklahoma, Arrow Child & Family Ministries, and several local Tulsa churches, the goal was simple: Something must be done to help change the current foster process and promote the human rights of the family-less in Oklahoma.
The 8046 Conference mapped out what a "typical" child in foster care goes through upon initial entry into the program. The journey may look something like this:
4:45pm: A OKDHS worker and a police officer show up at your house and tell you and your siblings you'll be coming with them tonight.
"I guess I should go with them, right? I mean, it's a police officer."
4:50pm: You're given a bag and told you have five minutes to fill it with the essentials. Choose wisely.
"Should I take my favorite stuffed animal or will I be back home tomorrow?"
5:15pm: You're driven to a facility where some nice strangers give you a meal, a shower, and then split you and your siblings up into rooms according to your age.
"Why did they have to put my brothers in another room? I bet they're so scared right now."
7:30pm: You're now in a room with other kids your age. You're the new kid so everybody is just looking at you.
"I wonder if all the other kids in here had the same thing happen to them."
8:23pm: One of the workers comes in and tells you to try to get some rest and we'll figure out more tomorrow.
"What does that mean? What are we trying to figure out?"
9:17pm: You're staring at the ceiling listening to some of the other kids in the room talk, thinking to yourself...
"What happened today? Will I see my parents again? I wonder if my little brothers are okay? Did this happen because I told my teacher what happened last weekend? Is there so