Foster children outnumber homes
In four counties in Southwest Oklahoma Comanche, Caddo, Jefferson and Harmon there are more foster children in need of homes than there are optimum numbers of foster homes to take them, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Despite a concerted effort made in recent years to recruit foster providers statewide, additional homes are needed in about a third of the state's 77 counties to most ideally meet local needs. According to DHS Communications Manager Casey White, when there aren't enough foster homes available in particular areas, kids in need in those areas are more likely to have to be taken out of their schools, moved to places they're unfamiliar with and sometimes be separated from siblings.
"This continues to be an area we struggle with. Without enough foster families, we cannot keep brothers and sisters together, keep children in their home community or place all children in a family setting," White said.
In Comanche County, White said at least a dozen additional foster homes are needed.
"We do not have enough foster homes to meet needs in this area. In Comanche County, in particular, assuming most homes would take two children, we still need an additional 12 homes to meet needs, (and) I should note that those 12 homes would only meet the need if each of the homes were available (to meet needs of) specific children who need placement accepting the ages of the children (and) any special needs (they might have)."
Ideally, DHS would hope to maintain a ratio of fewer than 1.3 children for each foster home in a county. Currently, the ratio in Comanche County is 2:1. There are 3.3 kids for every foster home in Caddo County. There are 3 for each home in Jefferson County and 8 kids for every foster home in sparsely populated Harmon County.
Situations are somewhat better in other counties. In Stephens and Jackson counties, for example, current ratios are fewer than 1 child for each foster home available.
According to White, DHS needs to add about 1,000 foster homes statewide each year because some foster home providers leave the system for one reason or another. The state also has moved in recent years away from having to rely on group homes to take youngsters.
"Children are best served in families. This is particularly true for children who have experienced trauma because of abuse or neglect," White said.
As of July 25, there were 9,020 children in care in Oklahoma, including 906 in "trial reunification" situations with parents; 3,327 in other "kinship placements"; 3,076 in traditional foster care homes; and others in "therapeutic foster care" or other categories of care, including congregate care. White said that to best meet the unique needs of those thousands of children, DHS will continue to contract with other agencies in the state and rely on local community resources, including churches, to recruit foster home providers.
"Our ultimate goal would be to have more foster families than children in care so we can ensure we are placing children with families who can best meet their needs," she said. "We particularly need people who are open-minded and will take teens, kids with special needs and sibling groups. These are the children who are hardest to place and who need special families willing to meet them where they are.