Are Oklahoma City’s most vulnerable citizens being loved and cared for? To answer these questions, we must examine something that affects many of our city’s children: foster care. Some 9,000 at-risk children are in the state foster care system, including 6,000 in Oklahoma City alone.
Only 40 percent of children in the foster care system find permanent homes. The remaining 60 percent are left to bounce from shelter to shelter, home to home, until they eventually age out of the system at 18. The numbers tell us that those who age out of the system generally experience homelessness, joblessness, addiction, incarceration and early mortality at higher rates than any other demographic.
The lack of foster care families in central Oklahoma means that on any given night more than 250 children, many under the age of 2, sleep in a shelter. Among foster families, overcrowding has become more frequent with some families accommodating as many as six foster children at a time.
Groups rally to help
There is a groundswell of people and organizations rallying to better love and care for foster children.
One is the 1:1:1 Project, directed by Ben Nockels, which focuses on getting children out of shelters and into caring foster families. The strategy is simple: if every church in Oklahoma committed one family for one purpose – keeping kids out of shelters – then no child in Oklahoma would be without a family.
1:1:1 Project’s strategy for accumulating more foster families starts at the church because Christians are called to love and care for the orphaned, and because of the abundance of churches in Oklahoma. The number of churches in the state is so great that if just one family from each congregation became a foster parent, no child in the state would have to live in a shelter long term.
Another organization is Stand in the Gap Ministries, which focuses on loving and healing foster children as they age out of the system. The organization works to provide steady, reliable relationships for youth who perhaps have never had steady relationships in their lives. Through their Life Launch program, Stand in the Gap Ministries pairs three to five volunteers with one youth who has aged out of the foster care system or is getting ready to age out.