Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Circle of Care expands foster program


Effort to find homes in towns across state

By Holly McCray

Through a new partnership with the state, Circle of Care can wrap its arms around more foster families in Oklahoma.

Now the Oklahoma United Methodist-related agency that helps at-risk children and youths can:

  • recruit, train, and certify more foster parents, in communities across the state; and

  • place family specialists in every district of the Church, providing local support to those who welcome foster children into their homes.

Financial resources will come from the state Department of Human Services (DHS). As part of a lawsuit settlement, DHS is privatizing its foster care system. The court case did not involve Circle of Care.

As DHS implements changes, Circle of Care is partnering with the state as a subcontractor for foster care services.

In each district, the agency will work with churches to recruit and equip about a dozen foster homes, serving a maximum of 24 children, and will deploy a family specialist there to support them.

"We’ll be able to provide a lot more direct support," explained Don Batson, president, "so a kid from Lawton doesn’t have to be placed in Tulsa," for example.

"It’s the opportunity for the churches to help Circle of Care find [foster] homes in their communities. There are kids that need foster parents there, and I will put somebody there that will support those families," Batson declared.

Tod Bryant pointed out the well-chronicled shortage of foster homes and heavy caseloads for state social workers. DHS’ goal is 5,000 more homes; about 10,000 children are in its custody. Bryant is Circle of Care vice president of support and development.

For 14 years, Circle of Care has been supporting foster families through Child SHARE. This program provides families with supplies from diapers and clothing to child car seats and hosts birthday/holiday parties. The program recruits foster and adoptive parents, respite volunteers, and mentors. Individual volunteers and churches are vital to its effectiveness.

However, the program’s impact has been limited by funding, the men concurred.

Each of three Child SHARE employees currently works with about 60 foster families, mainly in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

"The number of children in our Child SHARE count has been steadily going up," Bryant said. Funding in the new contracts will "enable us to take that to another level."

A few loaves and fish multiplied to feed thousands, the Bible reveals. Bryant agreed that story fits the opportunities unfolding for the Christian agency to help children and youths because of the new DHS subcontracts.

"It’s good news," he said. "We want people to know this change is coming. This doesn’t affect our existing programs. It enables us to do more."

He continued, "It jibes with our Strategic Plan. Our Board of Directors recognizes that the future lies with projecting our services out into communities. As we dialogue with churches, we want to be able to do this across the state. Our Board was very intentional in creating our Plan."

According to Batson, the overall number of DHS foster children served by Circle of Care increased by 66 percent between 2006 and 2012. This counts both support efforts and residential centers, such as Boy’s Ranch and Holsinger Home.

"Our vision is to help Oklahoma lead the nation in children in safe, nurturing foster homes," Batson said.

For more information, call 1-866-978-2956.



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