Oklahoma City—The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has moved all of the remaining children out of the Laura Dester Children's Center in Tulsa, officially ending use of the facility as an emergency shelter for children being brought into the foster care system.
Laura Dester was the last state-run shelter and had become the placement of last resort for children who could not be immediately placed in foster homes or other treatment facilities, primarily children with high levels of need such as behavioral challenges, intellectual and physical disabilities.
"We are so grateful to the many shelter staff and our placement team who worked tirelessly to care for these children and who put so much effort into finding safe, needs-based placements for each child," said DHS Director Ed Lake. "They put the needs of the children before their own, caring for the children and staying until the very last child was moved. We also appreciate all of our private providers and partners for helping us along this journey to place the children."
"However, our work continues non-stop to develop more and better placement options and treatment solutions for these children with challenging needs and others coming into our system every day."
"This is a bittersweet moment for us and for the Tulsa community. Tulsans were instrumental in building this fine facility and supporting the children and our staff who cared for them. We look forward to a "re-opening" of this facility for a new purpose this fall to serve children who need specialized treatment."
DHS received a letter on March 5 from the "co-neutrals", monitors overseeing the agency's foster care reforms, requiring the remaining children to be moved out of Laura Dester by June 30. DHS requested more time to ensure the best placements and services could be developed for each child, however the co-neutrals received a court order to enforce their deadline.
In March, there were 42 kids at Laura Dester, many of whom already had transition plans move. Of the children who were on campus, two are now in trial reunification with their families, 13 were moved into foster homes, 13 were moved to group homes, six now live in disability companion homes, five were sent to specialized treatment facilities, and three to youth services shelters.
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One of the last two children at Laura Dester Children’s Center walks about with a DHS staff member to leave for her new placement.
Andrew Robertson, Director of the Laura Dester Children’s Shelter, helps one of the last two children to load up her belongings and leave for her new placement.