A first-ever report of its kind studying the national trend of rising numbers of children in state foster care as well as the concurrent decrease in the numbers of foster homes shows Oklahoma had the greatest increase in foster care capacity in the nation.
Oklahoma was among only three states that also showed a constant or lower number of children and youth in foster care, according to the report. At least half of the states in the U.S. have seen their foster care capacity decrease in the past five years, or any increase in beds has been dwarfed by an even greater increase in children and youth in foster care.
"We are so proud that all of our hard work over the past five years to improve Oklahoma's foster care system is being recognized; however, what is most important is that we have improved the experiences of children who come into contact with our system due to abuse or neglect," said Jami Ledoux, director of child welfare services for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS).
"While we focused efforts with Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Fosters Initiative to recruit more foster families, we were simultaneously increasing family-centered services to keep children safe in their homes and reduce the need for foster care," said Ledoux.
"I appreciate the dedication of the DHS child welfare services division staff to reduce the number of children and youth in foster care," Governor Mary Fallin said. "I am also pleased to see how many dedicated, compassionate Oklahomans have answered the call to become foster parents. Every child deserves a family and we must continue our efforts to ensure children with special needs have the same opportunities, regardless of their needs. The findings of this report show the state is making strides in providing adequate protection and care to vulnerable Oklahoma children."
Ledoux cautioned interpreting this positive report as a sign that foster families are no longer needed.
"This is huge for our state and our kids but we still have work do to. We still need foster homes for sibling groups in every community and we need homes to fit the unique needs of each child. There are brothers and sisters who are placed in different foster homes outside their communities because the right homes are not available for them. There are youth who have special medical needs or disabilities and those with behavioral challenges who are going into shelters who also need loving homes."
The report by the Chronicle of Social Change looked at state data from 2012 through 2017 to see if the 11 percent increase in the numbers of children and youth in foster care nationwide has been met with a proportional increase in foster homes.
Other key findings in the report showed that in some states, kinship care took the place of traditional foster homes as states' overall capacity declined. However, Oklahoma increased the percentage of children going into kinship placements while also continuing to add traditional foster homes. Oklahoma was also one of only 18 states that received high marks in its last federal Child and Family Services Review for performance in the recruitment of foster families.
Since DHS began reforming its foster care system in 2012 through the Pinnacle Plan, the experiences of children suffering abuse or neglect have dramatically changed.
In Oklahoma today:
- Children are more likely to be able to safely remain in their own homes while their families get the help they need.
- Children first entering foster care are more likely to be placed with a foster family rather than in an emergency shelter.
- Children entering foster care are more likely to be placed with their own families or with someone they know.
- Children are less likely to experience multiple moves while in care.
- Children are less likely to age out of foster care without legal permanency like adoption or guardianship.
- After reunification with their families, children are less likely to reenter foster care.
(Data can be provided upon request for each of these areas)
|Out of Home Care||SFY13||SFY14||SFY15||SFY16||SFY17|
|Number at Beginning of SFY||8,843||9,980||11,301||10,917||9,964|
|Entering Out of Home Care||5,676||6,078||5,328||5,143||5,158|
|Exiting Out of Home Care||4,519||4,761||5,774||5,971||6,048|
|Removed at End SFY||9,980||11,301||10,917||9,964||9,046|
Children who are in DHS custody, whether they are in foster care, inpatient care, trial adoption, trial reunification, or similar services, are considered to be in out-of-home care.