Oklahoma foster care parents are stressed out and struggling because of low reimbursement rates and poor support and communication from state Department of Human Services workers, members of the state House Human Services Committee were told on Tuesday.
"I've had some wonderful social workers, but I've had some who wouldn't return calls,” said Kay Hawkins, a Shawnee foster parent. "For three days I had a sick child and my social worker wouldn't return calls. ... I've had times when I didn't know who my social worker was.” Hawkins said the situation is stressful because foster parents are told to call their social worker when a child falls ill. Foster parent Leslie Owens said there were times when she called both her social worker and the worker's supervisor, only to discover that the voicemail for both was full — making it impossible to even leave a message. The agency does a poor job of communicating about various forms of assistance that are available, several foster parents complained. Hawkins said when she first got her foster children, she wasn't told they qualified for the free lunch program, so she ended up paying. Special subsidies are available to foster parents who take in siblings and children with special needs. Hawkins said it typically costs more to take care of an older child than a younger child, but she wasn't told that the subsidies she receives could be increased because her foster children had gotten older until she specifically asked. Hawkins said a DHS worker told her the worker wasn't allowed to tell her about the availability of an increased subsidy unless she asked. Karen Poteet, a DHS programs manager, told lawmakers the subsidies are "negotiable” based on changes in a child's or family's circumstances. Hawkins also complained that the state doesn't provide liability insurance coverage for foster parents. Actually, the state does provide liability coverage, Joani Webster, a programs administrator in DHS's children and family services division, told lawmakers. Hawkins just hadn't been told about it. Foster children qualify for Medicaid assistance when they receive medical and dental care, but many doctors and dentists refuse to take Medicaid patients, several foster parents complained. "Finding a doctor who will accept Medicaid is a problem,” said foster parent Lana Freeman. "Finding a dentist is a bigger problem.” DHS could save foster parents a great deal of frustration if they would simply provide them with a list of doctors and dentists in their area who will accept Medicaid, they said.