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DHS Makes Big Change for Foster Care

After failing results and a lawsuit, DHS is taking a different approach to shore up its foster care system. The agency is outsourcing. Contracting foster parent recruitment and management out to private agencies that have more free time and available resources. KOSU’s Quinton Chandler reports how the change is expected to help and the reaction from a couple of Oklahoma City’s foster parents.

DHS loses almost half the foster parents they recruit every year. It’s almost like pouring water into a bucket filled with holes. In order to meet the Pinnacle Plan’s goals to keep children out of shelters and in stable homes they have to keep pouring.

“The thought is that if we have these agencies that are concentrating on traditional foster care. They can work with these families, address their needs, provide them with the services that they need.”

Amy White with DHS Child Welfare Services says some foster parents drop out of the program after deciding to adopt the children put in their care, but there was no sugar coating it, lots more foster parents just quit.

“We do know that it’s something that we need to work on and so we will be concentrating on our partnerships with our agencies to do that.”

DHS is contracting foster care management out to four private agencies. And those four will be allowed to subcontract to other groups so long as everyone follows the model DHS approved. They made the plan official back in August. The agency taking on region five, or Oklahoma County, is Angels Foster Family Network. Jennifer Abney is the Executive Director.

“DHS has to focus on birth families and getting them through the process. And getting the child’s case through the courts. And they don’t have time to manage a foster family in the way I think a foster family should be managed.”

She says Angels was chosen because DHS liked their methods and more importantly their results. “They see the outcomes and the positive family relationships. Adoptions and recurrent fostering with families with children who maybe go back to their birth parents and these families are willing to do it again.”

Jennifer, and Amy say DHS needs to better support foster parents and you may be wondering what that means. Well, among other things, parents need people to talk to like support groups filled with other foster parents.

“It’s also important that they have somebody to stand up for them in court. To be a voice for that child who has been in their home and in their care. Before they didn’t really have that option. They’d show up to court but they’re pretty much silent.”

Then there are the potentially awkward meetings with birth parents, getting kids into school, getting treatment or counseling for kids with special needs, and then sometimes foster parents just need to know that they can get in touch with their case worker.

I am at Cuppies and Joe coffee shop in Oklahoma City meeting with a couple who have been foster parents for almost two years.  Tommy used to be a foster child himself. And now he and his partner Steven are raising five of their own.

“They’re definitely overworked but they do the best they can.” “In the two years we’ve been doing this anytime we called the case workers for something, they’ve been there 24/7 for us. We’ve had no problems.” “Well I wouldn’t say no problems. They’re just so busy that it takes a while for them to get back to you. So you have to take up some of the slack.”

By pick up the slack Tommy means foster parents will pick up some of the smaller items on the case worker’s load. “Doctors appointments, school outings, a camping trip is coming up, court dates, and family meetings or family planning.”

He says getting in touch with case workers can be tricky, but once they’re on scene they do a stellar job and he and Steven seem to be ok with that. They’d rather hold off on working with anyone new.

“If you were with DHS before all the new rules went into effect you can choose to stay with DHS or go with one of the new placements.”

“I love my caseworkers. I love my caseworkers…”

“Maybe eventually. Anytime you get a new caseworker or a new child you don’t know how that caseworker is. You know nothing about them so you don’t know how they’re going to react.”

Tommy’s biggest concern is that if the new groups are faith based, it will be harder for some people to enter the foster care system. “You may have a clean record, but this is a man and a woman who aren’t married but they’ve been together ten to fifteen years. That’s going to cut out a lot of good foster parents.” He wouldn’t say it directly but some faith-based groups may also eliminate same sex couples as foster parents.

The big question for this one… Will privatized foster care work? It’s being tried in a few states with two standouts. Since switching to private agencies, Florida’s system has been ranked among the top in the country. But, then privatization in Nebraska has been deemed a near complete failure with most of the state returning to public foster care. Really there’s no knowing whether Oklahoma’s change will be a flop or if it will make things better.  Jennifer with Angels says we should give it at least a year.

Quinton Chandler worked at StateImpact Oklahoma from January 2018 to August 2021, focusing on criminal justice reporting.
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