OKLAHOMA CAPITOL -- At any given time there are 41 children staying at the Pauline E. Mayer Emergency Children’s Shelter in Oklahoma City. Last year 1,800 children passed through its doors. About 20 percent of those children had been there before.
"Child abuse isn’t just something that happens somewhere else, it’s right here in Oklahoma," said Anne Baker, director of the Mayer shelter. "It takes the whole community becoming aware of the problem and getting involved to address the problem."
Though the staff of the Mayer shelter work hard to care for the children that are brought to them, they can’t stop them from coming in. In fiscal year 1999, there were 16,217 confirmed cases of child abuse in Oklahoma - 3,189 in Oklahoma County alone. Because of this, the Mayer shelter is routinely filled to capacity.
"We used to think we had the answers, this problem is bigger than OKDHS, the District Attorney, law enforcement and judges," said Baker. "We all have a responsibility to the state’s children and we need everyone’s help, whether it’s reuniting children with their families, or finding them other permanent placement."
The children who arrive at the shelter are victims of abuse, abandonment, sexual exploitation and family circumstances beyond their control. Some are brought in after their parents have been arrested for various charges. Some make their way to the shelter after the home they were living in has been condemned by the health department. Others are suspected of being abused and referred to officials by friends, teachers or doctors. They are taken into protective custody by law enforcement officials and brought to the Mayer shelter.
When law enforcement brings a child to the shelter a child welfare intake worker is immediately assigned to investigate the problems within the home. A hearing is held the next business day to determine whether the problems in the home are unsafe to the point that the state needs to continue to protect the child. The child welfare worker assigned to the case completes a report concerning the child and turns this report over to the district attorney within five days. The district attorney then decides what legal action needs to be taken.
After the initial hearing, the Department of Human Services locates placement for the child. The first option is to place the child with responsible relatives. The second option is placement with responsible adults known to the child, a third option is foster care. Placement is found for children age five and under within 24 hours. Regardless of where the child is placed, it is intended to be temporary until the parental home can be made safe for the child to return.
Reunification with the family is a top priority when dealing with these children. The bond they have with their family is strong. Regardless of the situation with the family, the majority of children brought to the shelter want to go home.
The Mayer shelter takes care of children from infants to teenagers, all with different needs. The staff of the shelter tend to an ever changing clientele. Children with developmental disabilities, emotional, mental health and physical needs all come to the Mayer shelter.
"We have a gifted and experienced staff here at the shelter," said Tim Kalman, child welfare specialist and lead social worker at the Mayer shelter. "The people who work here have years of experience and a real commitment to working in the best interest of children."
The Pauline E. Mayer shelter has contracted with Oklahoma City Pubic Schools to provide three special education teachers on site. The shelter employs a full-time nurse and has contracted with a pediatrician and a clinical child psychologist.
|The staff of the Mayer shelter strive to provide a safe and reassuring place for children during a traumatic time in their lives. Children are taken to museums, sporting events, movies, amusement and water parks. The staff of the Mayer shelter have also helped teenage residents go to the prom and made sure young athletes get to school sporting events.
For assistance with parenting concerns, call 1-877-44-NOT OK. To report suspected child abuse, call the OKDHS Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. For information on becoming a foster parent, call 1-800-376-9729, or contact your local county OKDHS office. If you would like to make a donation or volunteer your time to the Pauline E. Mayer children’s shelter, please contact Debbie Williams, Oklahoma County OKDHS child welfare volunteer coordinator at (405) 713-6853.