There are more than 9,000 children in Oklahoma's foster care system. The Department of Human Services (DHS) granted contracts to 10 foster home recruitment agencies last month, but has since canceled all of them.
DHS Director Ed Lake sent a letter to the agencies last week terminating their contract, but some of the agencies already started recruiting foster families for DHS.
"Being able to manage those cases as a partner with DHS, they would in turn help us to manage those cases for them to keep long-term foster families," said Jennifer Abney, founder and executive director of Angels Foster family Network in Edmond. "That's one thing I think is lacking in the system is the support that's needed to get these kids the proper therapy and the proper love and long-term relationships that they need to grow."
Abney's non-profit specializes in placing children under the age of six and has placed more than 100 kids in foster homes in three years. DHS awarded the Angels network a contract to recruit foster families for the state starting March 8, but DHS canceled it along with nine other contracts.
DHS spokesperson Sheree Powell says the state uses dozens of recruitment agencies across the state, but this was the first time DHS sought performance-based agencies. She says DHS selected only the top 10 agencies in the state to help increase foster home recruitment, and DHS received bids from these agencies before Lake took his position as director in November.
"Well immediately upon him arriving in Oklahoma, he started receiving complaints and concerns from many of these agencies saying there were issues with the request for proposals," said Powell. "Some felt it was too prescriptive, it was too constricting as far as it didn't allow them to suggest some good ideas for recruiting foster parents."
Powell says other concerns were, the plan was limiting by only allowing one contract per part of the state and none of the foster care provider community had been consulted in drafting the proposals.
"Rather than proceed with something that might not benefit us in the future, let's stop now," said Powell. "Let's regroup, and let's come up with a new process that really incorporates what the providers feel like they can bring to our assistance."
Powell says DHS legally had 60 days to cancel the contracts and could not easily continue the contracts with the 10 agencies while adding more because the Office of Management and Enterprise Services Central Purchase Division did not allow it, so DHS has to start over with a new selection process.
Abney says she is fine with the decision, and since she already recruits and trains foster families for her organization, it was no time lost when she began taking on new DHS recruitment assignments.
Abney says the foster care community works a lot with each other and thought the original contracts may've been too limiting since it would just be 10 agencies to for the entire state.
"The more groups the better, I feel like they also don't want to leave out any partners who could make it better," said Abney. "With 10 partners versus 80, that's a big difference, I feel very comfortable with it."
Abney says her agency would have been in charge of managing multiple other agencies and she'd rather there be more options for potential foster parents to choose from.
The other recruitment agencies DHS canceled contracts with include Choices for Life Foster Care in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Families First in Norman, as well as three agencies in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania.
Powell assures that canceling the contracts has nothing to do with the quality of the 10 agencies, and all 10 could also be re-awarded with new contracts once DHS finished designing a new selection process.
DHS plans to have dozens of foster home recruitment agencies under new contracts by July 1.