State Rep. Scott BigHorse, D-Pawhuska, said there have been communication problems between DHS workers and foster parents for years and asked DHS officials why they hadn't acted to fix the problem.
"This can't be the first time you've heard this,” BigHorse said. "Why in the past 10 years hasn't it been addressed?”
DHS officials blamed staff turnover and said they are constantly trying to do better.
Costs add up
Foster parents are paid a basic rate of $365 to $498 a month for each child, depending on the child's age. That's not enough, the foster parents said.
Freeman said two foster children cost her $1,000 this week. One tore up a digital camera and another broke a Tiffany lamp.
Hawkins said a foster child dropped her husband's $300 cell phone in the toilet.
Freeman, who has cared for about 200 children in her home over the years, said children coming into foster care are younger and more disturbed than they used to be, which places more demands on foster parents. She said many of the children placed in her home had been sexually abused.
To prepare foster parents for dealing with sexually abused children, DHS provides "three whole minutes of film training,” she said.
Oklahoma has 3,800 foster homes, and that's not nearly enough to take care of all the children who need help, she said.
Several foster parents complained about the lack of a respite program to assist foster parents when they run into special difficulties.
Freeman said she asked for temporary respite assistance last year because her husband had cancer and she had to attend an important conference. She was told Oklahoma had no such program, so her husband had to watch five children even though he had a catheter at the time.
Webster said DHS does now have a pilot respite program in McCurtain County and there is a proposal to expand that to six counties — one in each of six areas of the state. Funding is an obstacle, she indicated.
Freeman said happy foster parents are the best foster parent recruiting tool a state can have and unhappy foster parents "kill recruitment.”
It's a difficult job, she said, adding that on average, an allegation is made against a foster parent every two years that could destroy that family.
"It's like playing leapfrog with a unicorn,” she quoted a friend as saying.