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Oklahoma City group home to become a way to build bridges for parents, foster children

Former group home being converted by DHS
BY MATT PATTERSON Published: November 1, 2010

With mostly bare walls and empty rooms, it doesn't look like much now but the Department of Human Services is hoping its new Building Bridges visitation center will be just like home, or close to it.

Building Bridges is expected to be fully operational early next year in a building that was once a group home for girls.

Planners hope the center will give parents with children in foster care a more homelike setting for visits.

DHS Area III Director Debbie Clour said the center will pay dividends over the long run.

"It will give parents a chance to see their children in a more relaxed setting," Clour said. "The goal is to get these families reunified faster and more safely."

Dawn Ellis and her fiance, Mark King, know the pain of having a child removed from their custody.

The couple's 4-month-old son was placed in foster care in July after the Department of Human Services determined they weren't providing adequate medical care.

King and Ellis dispute some of the specifics but said they are moving toward a Feb. 19 reunification date, visiting their son as often as possible.

They said those visits carry them through the rough times.

Parents whose children are in foster care often must visit their children at a DHS office or a restaurant. That's not always conducive to family bonding.

Ellis and King can see the value of a place like Building Bridges. They are now allowed supervised in-home visits, but before they reached that point the visits were in a sterile office setting.

"That's hard because you're in a little room in an office with someone watching you through a mirror," King said. "I think what they're going to be doing sounds like it will be a more natural atmosphere, a lot more like home and that's something that would have benefited us."

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