|Photo by Tod Bryant
Through the Circle of Care’s Independent Living Program, Mikeal has housing at Boys Ranch and is able to attend college.
By Holly McCray
The mission of Circle of Care (COC) is evolving, to meet the new realities in Oklahoma of providing care for at-risk children through age 16.
The change will enable the United Methodist-affiliated agency to serve even more children more effectively, confirmed COC President Don Batson in a recent interview.
Specifically, some cottages on the campuses of Boys Ranch and the Children’s Home now house up to 10 children each. By July on both campuses, Christian homes for up to six children each will replace the cottage system. Existing buildings will be converted, Batson said, and staffing adjusted.
Thus two homes, accommodating a total of 12 children, will be in service, instead of one cottage for 10.
"We’re changing the treatment model," said Batson. "This will make it more like a home; the family dynamic will be more natural. We are not closing any facility."
The change also will allow siblings to be housed together.
COC reported its programs in 2010 served a total of 1,000 children and youths in Oklahoma. The average stay is 18 months. The agency is responding to 30 calls monthly, on average, from UM pastors throughout the state who are seeking help for families in crisis.
Since 1917, Circle of Care has provided help, healing, and hope. "Our Circle of Care encompasses from birth until adulthood. This goes all the way back into the 1800s; the Methodist church has always been in the forefront" in child welfare ministry, said Tod Bryant, COC director of communications.
Among those COC has served most recently, "we now have three bachelor’s graduates who are in graduate school. How many programs can say that?" Bryant asked.
Batson traced the evolution of U.S. child welfare residential services. In the 1930s and ’40s, dormitory-style orphanages dominated. The ’50s and ’60s brought the shift to cottages, each with up to 12 children, grouped on a campus.
"It is clear that the trend of child welfare is toward smaller, more homelike placements," said Batson. Today’s industry standard is six children, whether biological, foster, or adoptive, in any state foster home setting.
Batson pointed out that Oklahoma is "tied with (Washington) D.C. for the most children in out-of-home placement—twice the national average. We’ve got a lot of children in need; way, way too many."
Bryant noted Oklahoma ranks near the bottom nationally in the way state government supports foster children.
"Without the faith community, child welfare in the state would be dismal," he said. Only 2 percent of COC revenue comes from state or federal government.
"Going forward, we’re continuing our mission. We’re just doing it a little differently and with more kids. Collectively, we can do so much. It’s what the people in each church do: the Apportionments, the United Methodist Men, Child SHARE volunteers, even helping a foster family with a car seat."
In addition to Boys Ranch, near Gore, and the Children’s Home, at Tahlequah, COC operates Holsinger Home for Children, Enid; the David Beal Independent Living Program (ILP); Frances Willard Ministry Center/Pearl’s Hope, Tulsa; and Child SHARE, supporting individual foster families across the state.