Dozens of children in foster care at any given time, about 5,625 square miles of sparsely populated area sandwiched between 4 neighboring states and only 2 traditional foster homes to serve it all. For child welfare professionals in the Oklahoma panhandle counties of Cimarron, Texas and Beaver, the numbers just don’t add up.
“Two foster homes for 3 of the largest counties in the state is unacceptable,” said Tom Marcum, Oklahoma Department of Human Services foster care specialist. “It takes hours to drive the children to have visits with their parents. All that time on the road is hard on young children, not to mention the workers spending time behind the wheel and out of the office. The time driving could be spent reconnecting. This is a real roadblock to reunification.”
Though some children in care are placed with relatives, according to Donna Gift, child welfare supervisor for the panhandle counties, kinship placement is not always an option.
“Because of the low number of foster homes we’re forced to place children in other counties,” said Gift. “We’ve even placed children as far away as Poteau. That’s more than 450 miles from Guymon. This makes reunification even more challenging, not to mention the stress on the children being moved away from their schools, churches, friends and homes.”
“The panhandle counties are in a unique spot,” said Marcum. “There are folks who may have their daycare in Texas, doctor in Colorado and dentist in New Mexico or go to Wal-Mart in Kansas. And it’s hard to find medical services. For some folks, services in other states are closer than those in Oklahoma. And for us, that presents a whole new set of challenges.”
But, according to Marcum, there is a big advantage to living in the Oklahoma panhandle.
“The panhandle has a rural, sparse population, but there is a strong sense of community and a willingness to help. It’s just a challenge to communicate the need for quality foster homes. But if folks find out, we know they’ll step up and help.”
OKDHS Children and Family Services staff in the panhandle are actively seeking families willing to be trained to become foster families for Oklahoma’s children.
To become a foster parent you must be 21 years old and financially stable. You do not have to own your own home and you can be married or single. You will have to submit to a background check and be a legal resident with a permanent address. You will be asked to complete a training and assessment process and also be willing to work with the child’s family toward achieving goals determined to be in the best interest of the child.
If you or someone you know would like to experience the rewards of becoming a foster parent, or if you would like to become a volunteer or donate items to an OKDHS children’s shelter, please call (866) 242-9088, or click on www.OKDHS.org. To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call (800) 522-3511, or contact your local OKDHS Human Services Center.