A different problem faces kinship foster parents.
DHS can place children in those homes as soon as preliminary safety checks have been completed — often within hours. However, kinship foster parents must wait for the complete home study to be finalized before they can start receiving their regular monthly payments, which range from $365 to $498 per child, depending on age, officials said.
Kinship foster parents are those foster parents who are related to their foster children or who had close relationships with the children prior to their being placed in foster care. Teachers or neighbors would be examples.
Powell said DHS is able to provide some financial assistance in the meantime, including a startup stipend equal to one month's pay within the first 15 days, $375 at the start of training and another $375 at the completion of training. They also get a medical card for the child, can receive child care benefits if they work at least 20 hours a week and can apply for child-only benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Such TANF payments amount to a little less than $100 a month.
The foster parents will get back pay if they are eventually approved, but it can be a hardship, Powell acknowledged.
The backlog in Oklahoma County is extensive, Powell said.
There are currently 79 relative kinship foster parent home studies that have been pending for more than 90 days in Oklahoma County, Powell said. There are also 30 nonrelative kinship home studies that have been pending that long.
Powell said she didn't know how many home studies for traditional foster homes were overdue, but thought it would be in the “hundreds.”
Delays in processing home studies have been a problem at DHS for a long time, Powell said.
The backlog has gotten worse lately as more Oklahomans have applied to become foster parents in response to DHS efforts to recruit foster parents and articles that appeared in The Oklahoman about the plight of babies being kept in overcrowded shelters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, she said.
Despite the backlog, DHS needs even more foster parents, Powell said. She said she hopes people will be patient while the agency works through its issues.
Powell said DHS officials are hopeful they will be able to hire more employees to do home studies once an agency reform plan is approved.