Encouraging More Foster Parents in OK
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is working with churches and community groups to reduce the number of foster children in state care.
It’s called the 111 Project, and it started just this year.
DHS is asking for each of the more than 6,000 churches in Oklahoma to provide one family to take care of one foster child.
Christy Prescott opens a bag of fruit snacks for the two little girls who have been in her home the past two months.
Christy heard about the 111 Project from pastors at Life Church in Midwest City.
She went through background checks and five weeks of training before she was finally able to become a foster parent.
But, there was little time for her to prepare for the new additions.
“So you’re having to get to know the children, get to know all your caseworkers, buy clothes and furniture and get set up, so it’s been busy, but wonderful getting to know them.”
As of January of 2011, there were more than eight thousand kids in DHS care.
That’s when the agency started the project to get one church to provide one family to take care of one child.
The original idea was to get 111 families just in the Oklahoma County area to foster 111 kids, but it evolved to include the entire state.
The idea: get one church to pledge one family to adopt at least one child.
Christy’s a divorcee with an 18-year-old and 21-year-old already out of the house, but she thought she could contribute.
With a background in child development, Christy knows the importance of young people feeling loved.
“Somebody who doesn’t have their basic needs taken care of, just very basic. When they’re hungry that they’re fed, when they’re dirty they need to be changed, they develop mistrust.”
DHS is providing speakers to go to church pulpits to tell members about the program and recruit employees of the churches.
Midwest City Life Church Campus Pastor Trevor Williams supports the idea and says foster families change lives and put children back on the right path.
“If you track where they end up going, a majority of them really become problems in our society and when someone intersects in their life in a place of love, and care and relationship it completely changes the trajectory of their life.”
Julie and Trevor Davis learned about the 111 Project at Life Church in Edmond.
The couple is finishing up their five weeks of training to become foster parents through the 111 project.
Although they already have a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, they’re willing to open up their home to others.
Julie says she wants to reach out to others the way her faith teaches her.
“We’re just so excited to love on them and also to if it’s an open opportunity to build relationships with the biological parents and to pour love into them and meet them and try to help them in any way that we can.”
Her husband, Trevor, says they thought long and hard about this and knew it would be easy to come up with excuses not to do it.
“If the good families with the good homes veered away from doing this because it was too hard or it was uncomfortable or it was going to put to much strain on their day in, day out then that left almost no one to take care of these children.”
The project launched in April of this year, and so far 27 churches have pledged to recruit 139 families and 68 have already started the process of becoming foster homes.
DHS Chief Operating Officer Marq Youngblood admits kids are put in foster care only as a last resort.
“We’d like every child to be safe with their biological family or some other care giver that the biological family chooses. That that child is safe, that child is supported, that child can thrive in that environment without our involvement, unfortunately that doesn’t happen.”
And, for those children who get whisked away from their homes sometimes, it can be traumatic.
Robin Jones, runs the Office of Faith-based and community initiatives at DHS.
She gets emotional when she talks about the children being given a garbage bag to put all their belongings before leaving their homes.
“They don’t have suitcases so here are these precious children who not only are going through an incredibly traumatic experience and then they’re basically told that their valuable belong in a trash bag.”
Back at Christy Prescott’s home in southeast Oklahoma City, the girls are having pudding for desert.
She says she doesn’t know how long they will be in her home but hates to think what would have happened if she hadn’t opened her doors to them.
“They would have been at the shelter or they could have been in danger, you just don’t know that. And, to be able to just take care of somebody. I love them. I treat them like they’re my own children. I’ve grown to love them like that.”
She says even those who can’t foster a child can lend a hand to those who are.
While primarily Christian churches have signed on for the project, DHS officials say it is open to all faiths, and is recruiting non-religious community organizations to participate.
You can find out more information at 111project.org.