COVID-19 has greatly impacted the states foster care system, according to experts who work on the cases daily.
TFI Family Connections said there was already a shortage of foster homes in the metro before COVID-19, and they only expect that number to go up.
They are urging anyone who can to help meet the need on unexpected and heartbreaking consequences.
“We anticipate those reports, abuse and neglect, said Jason Grewe. “There have already been high-risk families that have gone through stress and trauma, poverty, job loss.”
As COVID-19 swept Oklahoma, many agencies found themselves innovating to keep programs up and running.
Potential parents had virtual home evaluations; meanwhile current foster parents were called on by state sub-contractors to fill the gap.
“We have asked a lot from out foster families, to step-up even more than they already do, and consider taking one more child,” said Grewe.
It’s a need many felt called to over the years.
Michelle Urdak has been a foster mom on and off for about 13 years.
Shew said she knew she had to take on foster siblings so they wouldn’t have to be separated once in the system.
“Kids just need love. We started this because my dad was adopted out of foster care. So, I always had a heart for that,” said Urdak.
TFI Family Connections reported they are one of a few dozen agencies that work with the state to place children in foster care. Because there was a shortage before the pandemic, the idea is that when school, church, and other activates resume, abuse and neglect will be more easily identified again.
“We know that in Region 3, which is the Greater Oklahoma City Area, we have 200 children that should be in this area, but they are not. They go two, three, four counties away because there are not enough foster homes in this area,” said Grewe.
“They didn’t ask for this either. So, it’s hard to be a parent to your own biological children, and so to be a parent to kids that come from trauma, and hard places is going to be hard too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a home and a family, and love and support, and to know what safe is,” said Urdak.
News 9 checked with officials at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) who said they can’t predict what’s to come.
OKDHS issued the following statement Monday:
“In the months of March and April, 131 caring Oklahomans were approved as foster families to support children in OKDHS custody and their natural families. Children come into state care every day, so just as before COVID-19, we need more loving, supportive families to step forward as foster families, so we have the best placement options for every child coming into care. We are still approving families every day and supporting them with online training and resources, in addition to the in-person visits that help us ensure child safety in the home. But, even if you can't become a foster family right now, there are plenty of ways to support foster care. Call 1-800-376-9729 or visit okfosters.org to learn more. We also encourage communities to step forward in support of their neighbors who may be struggling. If we all watch out for one another, we can keep children safe and strengthen their families.”