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Seminole senator, former lobbyist marry, serve as foster parents in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sen. Harry Coates and Haley Atwood were married in early July. They have become foster parents in hopes of helping needy children through another angle after their extramarital affair ignited a controversy that contributed to the halt of a juvenile detention center being built in Ada.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND and ANN KELLEY Published: July 30, 2012

Batson said foster parents are paid about $23 a day, and his agency has been cutting the checks to Coates.

Coates said money was in no way a motivation for them becoming foster parents. He said the payment doesn't come close to covering the cost of the full-time nanny they've hired to help take care of four children ages 8 and 6 years, 18 months and their 10-week-old foster child.

DHS spokeswoman Powell said there are no rules against unmarried couples being foster parents, and no law prohibits Coates from drawing a state check for being a senator and an additional one for being a foster parent.

Batson said he's known Coates since 2005 and is well aware of the controversy that emerged over the juvenile detention center and the affair. Accepting Coates and Atwood into the faith-based program was never an issue.

“If they are supporting children then we are supporting them,” Batson said.

Learning to adjust

Coates and Atwood recently ran into trouble with DHS over a foster child being photographed in Coates' arms without the agency's consent.

Coates said it was an accident. He said he was asked to speak to a group of adoptive parents on the second floor of the Capitol and held his foster child in his arms while he spoke. Someone snapped a photo.

“It certainly upset DHS, that that would happen,” Coates said. “We had to go in for a little talk, a little reprimand. It was not intentional.”

He said he and Atwood do their best to make their foster child part of their daily lives, which becomes complicated at times being a public official working in a public space, but they are being careful.

They hope someday to adopt a child through the program, he said.

“I have a lot on my heart with regard to these children,” Coates said. “I am pro-life to the point where I don't even like to talk about it anymore ... but one thing I would like to present to the pro-lifers that come to the Capitol is why don't you sign up to be a foster parent. You're preaching to the choir. Why not get involved with the DHS foster parenting program and try to do something for the life of a child that has already been born.”