By Valera Ainsworth and Sarah Brewer
Over 150 foster homes shelter 350 children in Comanche County, but the Department of Human Services is still in serious need of more families to welcome more children into their homes.
Many of the children DHS has taken into temporary custody have endured varying degrees of crisis, ranging from death in the family to severe neglect and abuse. Child Welfare Specialist Melissa Thorson is one of five workers responsible for evaluating and approving the placement of these children at Comanche County’s DHS. She is currently overseeing 63 cases.
The increasing number of cases has directly impacted overall progress at DHS.
Thorson recalls several cases in which families were torn further apart due to the limited number of foster homes that were willing to accept groups of siblings.
“One of the saddest things for me is to see siblings separated after already being taken from their homes,” Thorson said. “Even in situations that involve neglect or abuse, it is very hard on the children to be without their parents. Despite the home environment they were taken from, most of these children still love and miss their parents very much.”
According to Thorson, DHS prefers to consider Kinship Homes as a possible safe haven for a child before placing her or him in a traditional foster home or shelter.
“This means the child knew the person prior to coming into custody,” Thorson said. “This can include other family members, friends and teachers.”
Aside from this difference, Kinship foster parents must meet the same requirements for approval as traditional foster families; the process is usually as lengthy, but slightly different.
“Kinship parents are allowed to complete a very basic initial, less extensive approval process,” Thorson said. “This process requires background checks, child welfare checks, a home visit and references in order for initial placement to be approved.”
Not only does DHS hope to guarantee children stability and long-lasting relationships within their new homes, but DHS also encourages involvement from the community.
DHS has worked to change perceptions of the foster parents program and the community. Foster parents are now referred to as Bridge Resource Parents. Their new name draws attention to the bridge children make from their previous living situation to a safer, more lasting and stable home environment.
Several families have had good experiences as a Bridge Resource Family to be very rewarding.
Bridge Resource Families must meet several requirements, including a national criminal search, an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation background check, a check for previous child welfare history and a walk-through of the home to check for safety hazards.
More information bout Bridge Resource Parents can be found at www.okdhs.com.