Angels Foster Family Network OKC, not quite two years old, already is making a difference, involving more than 100 volunteers and 100 young children needing help.
The driving force is Jennifer Abney, of Edmond, a one-time interior designer. She now uses her creative efforts to brighten the lives of children — mostly age 3 and younger. The private group works with the state Department of Human Services, which provides referrals.
Angels Foster Family Network has its offices on South Broadway in Edmond in a former bank storage area where Abney said “typewriters and other office equipment came to die.” Now there are 12 staffers in a two-floor operation, which trains volunteers in much-needed foster child care.
“There are about 2,500 children in Oklahoma County who are in need,” Abney said.
The children, neglected or abused by birth parents, can enter the system for many reasons, but one cause stands out above the others.
“Most of the parents have issues with drugs, particularly meth,” Abney said.
Angels has one goal — providing a child the gift of “knowing unconditional love.” This, Abney said, has a lifetime benefit. It can also pay off for society.
“Without that love, the child can suffer reactive attachment disorder,” Abney said. That disorder can cause children and later adults to react inappropriately in most social contexts. About 80 percent of those in prison have the disorder, also called RAD, she said.
Usually children come to the Angels program in one of two ways. There is a normal foster stay which is six to 12 months. During that time, courts usually order the birth family to meet guidelines for a possible reunification. There also is an emergency foster situation where children stay with a family 30 days or less.
The experience changes the lives of youngsters and participants.
Abney, and her husband, David, became involved in Angels Foster Family in San Diego, the birthplace of Angels. It was founded in 1998 by Cathy Richman, who was responding to a foster-care crisis in the San Diego County Juvenile Court. Richman wanted to place needy babies and toddlers with the most carefully screened and loving parents possible.
The Abneys took in a girl, Desi. They fell in love with her and eventually adopted her. The couple have another daughter, Kate.
When David Abney was transferred to Oklahoma City, Jennifer transplanted Angels here. Volunteer parents were sought. Each parent is involved in an extensive screening and background check, which includes personality tests as well as a 27-hour training class.
At first, Jennifer Abney spread the message of what she was trying to do with just about anyone who would listen. One of those people was Cherie Merkley. They met at Cross Timbers Elementary in Edmond.
Merkley had considered volunteering as a foster parent, but the DHS organizational structure proved to be a challenge. As with many government agencies, there was red tape to go through.
“It was hard to get a hold of people,” Merkley said.
That changed with her encounter with the Angels Foster Family Network. She became active as a provider when a baby boy, Gavin, entered their lives. The Merkleys fell in love with Gavin, and he has now joined the family, including four siblings.
“He is so outgoing. Everybody knows Gavin,” Merkley said.
In addition to recruitment, training and screening of foster parent volunteers, there is a closet on site providing clothing, toys, games, books and other materials for toddlers.
Merkley said it's needed.
“Sometimes when we provide the emergency foster, the children arrive with only the clothes on their back and that's it,” Merkley said. “One little girl had to shuffle when she walked because her shoes were three sizes too big for her feet, and that's the only way she could walk without the shoes coming off.”
To date, the group's efforts have met with good reviews from the Department of Human Services.
“They are a fabulous partner with DHS,” said Amy White, a deputy DHS director. “They succeed with getting the children the best care.”
She credited that to the leadership and foundation of the program.
How to help
Angels Foster Family Network OKC
The need for volunteers and donations is ongoing. Being private, a lot of the operation depends on private contributions. Individuals and companies help.
A fundraiser is planned Oct. 18 at the Oklahoma History Center. Leigh Anne Tuohy will be the featured speaker. Tuohy's life, portrayed by actress Sandra Bullock, was featured in the 2009 motion picture “The Blind Side.” Tuohy's family adopted and nurtured football player Michael Oher.
For more information, call 285-6193 or go to www.