Helping children in need

With nearly 8,000 children in state custody, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services hopes Oklahomans in every community will consider how they can support foster care. To learn more about being a foster parent or how you can make an impact in your community, call DHS at 1-800-376-9729 or visit okfosters.org.

Glenda Sallee’s first experience as a foster parent was in 2012, when her family took in four children whom Sallee knew through her church.

The elementary school-age children, whose parents were struggling with drug addiction, were being neglected and needed somewhere to live until they could safely return to their parents. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services arranged for the children to live with Sallee and her husband, who were raising three children of their own.

The foster children lived for a while with Sallee’s family, who cared for them and took them fishing for the first time in their lives. During those few months, one of the foster children’s birth parents turned their life around and was able to get the children back.

Sallee said she has stayed in touch with her first foster children, who are doing well. She said she was glad that her family could help those children during a difficult time in their lives.

“Getting to be there and just get to be that little step of their journey,” the Coal County woman said in a May 10 interview. “I never wanted to keep them keep them, but just getting them to where they needed to go was a huge blessing in our lives.

“It made us think this is so incredibly amazing just to see the testimony unfold in these children’s lives and get to be a part of that. It was a really big blessing to us and made us want to keep doing it.”

Sallee shared her story during Foster Care Month, a monthlong campaign to recognize people who help children in foster care find permanent homes and connections.

Foster care in Oklahoma

DHS’ foster care program provides temporary homes for children who are in the agency’s custody because their birth parents abused or neglected them. The goal is to find a safe, loving home for those children until they can either return to their birth parents or move into a new, permanent home.

“It’s temporary, and it’s to help the biological family and the children to heal and be able to return home safely,” said Shelly Gaines, a foster care and adoption specialist and recruiter with DHS.

But reunification with a child’s birth family isn’t always possible, according to DHS’ foster care initiative, Oklahoma Fosters. In those cases, the state must find those children a new permanent home — often through adoption.

People who would like to adopt children should consider fostering as a first step toward that goal, as long as they remember that DHS’ goal is to reunite foster children with their biological family, Gaines said.

“If you want a young child, fostering is the route for you,” she said. “But you still have to work within the parameters of reunification with the biological family. They have to be willing to work with that family so their children can go home.”

According to DHS, in 2017-2018, 95 percent of children adopted were adopted by their current foster parents.

Anyone who wants to become a foster parent should start by contacting DHS or visiting the Oklahoma Fosters website, www.okfosters.org. DHS will follow up with a phone call to answer any questions, then put that person in touch with a foster care agency or specialist.

Other steps to becoming a foster parent include:

• Submitting a completed application and providing financial and medical statements.

• Choosing a foster care partner agency.

• Having fingerprints taken and getting a background check.

• Starting foster care training.

• Undergoing a family assessment.

• Completing a review period, which includes submitting all paperwork and completing required training and the family assessment.

After the foster parents are approved, DHS will call them to request placement for a child in need.

Foster parents do not need to be wealthy, but they must have a stable source of income, Gaines said. She added that DHS wants to make sure that foster parents can cover their own bills as well as the costs associated with foster care.

““What we care about is, is their income enough coming in to meet their own family’s obligations that they’ve already set up,” Gaines said. “That they’re not depending upon the foster care reimbursement — it’s called a maintenance payment now — they’re not depending on that to make their house payment or car payment.”

Foster parents do not earn a salary, but they do receive a monthly reimbursement to help meet their foster children’s needs.

Glenda Sallee, who started fostering children seven years ago, said DHS has given her the resources she needs to help her foster children.

“The state of Oklahoma gave me everything that I needed to take care of these children,” she said. “Everything.”

Sallee added that the state’s SoonerCare program also provided health, dental and vision insurance for her foster children.

Raising the next generation

Sallee said her first experience with foster parenting was such a blessing that she and her husband decided they wanted to continue. Over the past seven years, they have served as a foster family for six children, which does not include the four they began with in 2012.

Salllee’s family has also provided overnight stays for children whose foster parents need some personal time — a form of foster parenting known as respite care.

Every child who enters Sallee’s home gets to choose a button from a jar, then place the button on a picture of a tree painted over an old window. The children then write their name under the button, which reminds them that they always have a place to call home, no matter what happens.

“You always have a place to come to for holidays,” Sallee said. “When you’re upset, when you need something, when you don’t need something, for birthdays. You have a family that loves you.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The paragraph concerning the percentage of children adopted in 2017-18 has been corrected.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.