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The foster care problem

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Sunbeam Family Services, located at 1100 NW 14th Street.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – In 2014, Oklahoma was ranked 39th in the nation for overall child well-being in the annual Kids Count Data Book by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

During the fiscal year of 2013, Oklahoma had 10,000 in the foster care system, a rate of 10.6 per 1,000 children in Oklahoma. This was an increase of 36.6 percent increase in foster care placement since 2009.

Foster Care Director at Sunbeam Family Services, Midge Woodard, said the current count of children in foster care in Oklahoma is at 11,000.

Woodard believes the problem is that the state does not offer prevention services that would ensure families have what they need to be good parents.

"As a state we don't prove for their children's mental and physical health needs, ensuring children don't have to be removed for the homes. he services may exist, but often families don't always know where to find them," Woodard said.

A major issue that Oklahoma faces concerning the displacement of children is mental health care treatment.

Oklahoma ranks 46th in the nation for spending per capita to treat mental illness. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health agency found that 1 in 4 people in Oklahoma will need treatment for mental illness or substance abuse issues in their lifetime.

Statistics such as these highlight to Woodard why prevention is important in preventing children going through the foster care system.

"In our experience, domestic violence, substance abuse or mental health issues within a family are the primary reasons parents are not able to care or provide a safe environment for their children. Typically, it is a combination of at least two of these issues occurring within a family that culminates in the need for a child or children to be removed from the home," Woodard said.

When children are put through the foster care system, they are more prone to psychological issues.

Rachel*, a child welfare specialist with the Department of Human Services, sees cases everyday where the child experiences severe abuse or neglect. "The process of getting moved from home to home and going through foster care is traumatizing itself to the child. That experience alone can cause issues if not properly addressed."

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy found that foster care children have more serious and complex physical health, mental health and developmental problems than children not in foster care.

The study conducted concluded that children growing up in traumatic conditions are at risk of mental stunt development. The Mental Health and Juvenile Justice Collaborative for Change, found that up to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorders. In addition, more than 75 percent of youth that experienced a form of trauma such as physical abuse, domestic violence, neglect, were more vulnerable to develop a mental health disorder and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

That's where organizations such as Sunbeam come in, to help children who have been placed in the foster care system.

"Sunbeam Family Services has served children in foster care for more than 100 years, and in our experience, we've found that children in foster care often struggle with a lack of trust, attachment issues, a lack of healthy relationships with adults, and trauma from being removed from their own home. In the end, the safety and well-being of the child is the most important concern," Woodard said. 

Placing children in a home appropriate for them is one of the greatest struggles faced by children's services, Woodard elaborated. Because a foster parent is instrumental to a child's development ensuring children are placed in a safe, healthy foster home is the main priority.

Another issue is finding a foster parent within the child's neighborhood and school district as not to disrupt their daily lives too much. "To do so, we need more foster parents across all communities," Woodward said.

Foster parent recruitment is an ongoing process and Woodard believe that more programs need to be put in place to empower families and individuals from all walks of life to become a foster parent.

"Children come into care from all social economic and cultural backgrounds," she said.

At the end of the day, the most efficient way to protect children going through the foster care system will be to strengthen families and put prevention programs in place.

Woodard believes, "The link between helping families identify the needs of their family with what services are provided by the community needs to be strengthened."

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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