OKLAHOMA CITY - New federal funding is expanding a local program to prevent children from entering the foster care system. 

The new Empower OKC mentors are arriving in elementary schools on the south side this week, aiming to give students more support for a successful future. For a year and a half, non-profit foster care agency Lilyfield has focused its efforts on preventing family separation, especially in south Oklahoma City.

“We don’t have any way of knowing which particular families might end up involved with the child welfare system,” said Lilyfield Executive Director Holly Towers, “but we know that they’re more likely to have that happen if they live in this part of the city.”

Now with help from a federal grant, Lilyfield's Empower OKC Program just grew by a few. AmeriCorps members took their oath at a recent ceremony, allowing the program to reach 200 children and their parents.

These community members will build one-on-one relationships with their caseload of students.

Towers said, “When we find that a child maybe has need for counseling, we connect them to a counseling agency. If they’re food insecure, we help them access food resources. If there’s a housing issue, we walk along with them navigating that.”

Newly sworn-in mentor Quakneesha White told me, “I hope that I can bring encouragement and empowerment to these students, basically just the confidence that they can read this book out loud in class, or they can go to their parent or their counselor with any issue that they may have.”

Miss Q’s students told me they are excited to have someone they can open up to.

Programs like this have reduced new fosters by as much as a third in other cities.