NORMAN — The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has fulfilled a New Year’s resolution, so to speak—ensuring no more children under the age of two spend the night in a shelter. The “resolution” is the first major goal in the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan, ensuring by Dec. 31, 2012 that all children under the age of two-years-old will be placed in family-like settings.
“This was a very important goal for our state to achieve not only for the Pinnacle Plan--it’s the right thing to do for young children,” said Deborah Smith, Director of OKDHS Child Welfare Services. “I am very proud of our child welfare staff. Achieving this goal has taken a lot of teamwork and I commend everyone for their efforts.”
Since July 1, 930 new foster parents have been recruited statewide.
“OKDHS cannot do this work alone and we would like to thank all Oklahomans who have stepped up recently to become foster parents,” said Smith. “We would also like to thank all of our private partners and the faith community for helping recruit, train and support foster families.”
Exceptions to the “under two” rule are allowed for medically fragile children requiring 24-hour supervision, large sibling groups of four or more, and teen moms with infants.
Overnight is defined as “being present at midnight.” If a child should enter an emergency shelter after midnight, they would not be counted in this measure until the following night. This allows staff to put the children to bed and not move them around during the night hours.
The Pinnacle Plan is a five-year improvement plan created by OKDHS and key stakeholders for the improvement of the state’s foster care system. The plan includes numerous initiatives divided into seven major categories called “Pinnacle Points.”
“Pinnacle Point 1” refers to expanding the number of foster homes available and reducing the use of shelters statewide, particularly for young children. OKDHS committed to ensuring that children are cared for in family-like settings and outlined timelines to meet these goals.
Often, children are brought to shelters after removal from their homes to receive medical treatment, assess their needs, and to provide a safe shelter while a family member or a foster home is being located.
The goal was to ensure these young children were placed in a home as quickly as possible without spending the night in the shelter.
The next major timeline the agency has committed to in the Pinnacle Plan is June 30, 2013. By that date, OKDHS must ensure no child under the age of six-years-old spends the night in a shelter, and the agency must have recruited 2,000 new foster families--500 more than had been previously recruited.
Other goals OKDHS has already achieved in the Pinnacle Plan include: increasing the reimbursement rates for foster parents, increasing salaries for child welfare workers, and restructuring the Child Welfare Division.
For those interested in becoming a foster or adoptive parent, please contact the Bridge Family Resource Center at okbridgefamilies.com or call 1-800-376-9729. Those interested in a career as a Child Welfare Specialist should go to the OKDHS website and look under “Careers.”