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Oklahoma nonprofit group to end foster care

BY DARLA SLIPKE Published: December 13, 2009
Sunbeam Family Services is working to make the transition as smooth as possible for 19 children and 16 families after directors announced they will close the agency’s therapeutic foster care program after 25 years of service.

Sunbeam, a local nonprofit agency that provides a variety of support services for people of different ages, piloted a therapeutic foster care program in 1984. The program offers a high level of foster care and community-based family treatment for children who have been abused or neglected. Officials have decided to stop the program, citing a commitment to the agency’s mission and a change in the direction of therapeutic foster care that they said makes it difficult for Sunbeam to accommodate children’s needs.

"It takes more than what we’re able to provide, to look people in the eye and say we can make a difference in their lives,” said Ray Bitsche Jr., Sunbeam’s executive director. "That may sound like we’re giving up, but we’re being honest about what our capacities are and what the foster families’ capacities are.”

Bitsche said the agency has been losing therapeutic foster care homes for several years despite major efforts to recruit families. The length of time foster children stay in those homes is also decreasing, Bitsche said, which makes it difficult for children to form attachments and build relationships.

Meanwhile, Bitsche said the kids’ behaviors and problems have become more difficult to manage and the agency was worried about liability issues and whether Sunbeam would be able to make a positive difference in the children’s lives.

"We just believe that we’re at a point where the kids that are being referred have such complex problems and have been in so many placements that we don’t think we can be effective with those children,” Bitsche said.

Some therapeutic foster families have been with Sunbeam for more than 20 years. Making the decision to cut the program was difficult, Bitsche said.

He said he hopes Sunbeam’s therapeutic foster families will move to a different agency that offers those services so kids will be able to stay in their homes. More DHS coverage