Legislation unveiled would empower parents who are in crisis to find a home for their children without the involvement of the Department of Human Services, according to the bill’s author.
House Bill 2536, by state Rep. Jason Nelson, would create a legal power of attorney for parents to use when placing their children with a host family. The legislation also modifies existing child placing licensure laws to ensure that the laws don’t frustrate or prohibit the work of private groups and host families who are caring for the child of a parent in crisis.
“Many people may see this as a radical concept and it is unfortunate that we live in a day when such a common-sense approach comes across as radical,” said Nelson, R-Oklahoma City. “The assumptions that underpin this approach are that parents love their children and are capable of making major decisions on behalf of their children even in the midst of a family crisis.”
Even as reforms and additional resources are put in place at DHS the number of children coming into state custody continues at an alarming and unsustainable pace, Nelson said.
In 2009, a research report that examined Oklahoma’s foster care system recommended that the state seek partnerships with the faith community in meeting the need for foster homes. The Count Me In 4 Kids collaborative is ready to take this a step further by working with the faith community to help families in crisis get back on their feet and avoid the circumstances that lead to DHS involvement.
“Many of us from the Count Me In 4 Kids collaborative are excited to be here today as our state moves forward in helping many more compassionate and caring Oklahomans step up to love and nurture some of our most vulnerable children,” Lynn Institute President Karen Waddell said. “We are committed to bringing the Safe Families model to Oklahoma out of our shared belief that every child deserves to have a safe place to call home and celebrate this next important step.
“Over the past year, it’s been amazing to watch over 50 organizations set aside their individual agendas, instead working collaboratively to find a way to reduce the number of children in foster care. We are on mission together and over the coming months we’ll be creating even more ways for Oklahomans to stand up and say, count me in for our state’s children. The answer to the problem lies in all of us working together.”
Nelson said he is confident in the ability of Count Me In 4 Kids to help with child welfare challenges in Oklahoma.
“I have confidence in this effort because of the dedicated and seasoned coalition, Count Me In 4 Kids, that is taking on this challenge,” Nelson said. “And I’ve heard from many churches and church leaders that they want to help meet the needs of vulnerable families. This effort brings a proven approach to our state that facilitates this partnership with private nonprofits and the faith community. That’s why I’m excited to run House Bill 2536 that opens the door in our state to this effort.”
DHS Director Ed Lake said he supports the legislation.
“We are delighted that these efforts are being made to prepare the way for Safe Families to come to Oklahoma,” Lake said. “This has proven to be an effective model in 25 other states offering options to people in crisis before the state has to become involved. We appreciate all efforts that help vulnerable Oklahoma families work through challenges and ensure children are safe and well cared for in the process. Government agencies cannot do this work alone which is why we welcome the support of communities, faith groups, and organizations whose goals are to better the lives of the children in this state.”