Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) is unveiling a new resource, and recruiting churches, civic groups and good Samaritans to help families in the state's adoption and foster care systems.
CarePortal, a resource already active in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metros, is being expanded to Enid to match the needs of foster and adoptive families with those willing to help, with an emphasis on churches.
According to DHS, CarePortal is an online platform that "brings the needs of children and families in our community to the attention of local churches who are connected."
"Whether you’re a church leader, a ministry leader, a church member, a person who cares, a child welfare professional, or a business leader, you have a role to play in CarePortal," according to a DHS press release.
The CarePortal website, at https://careportal.org, lists 122 churches in Garfield County eligible to sign up to help foster and adoptive families in need.
Linda Briggs, DHS Foster Care and Adoption Recruiter, said many, if not all, of those churches would like to help families in the adoption and foster care systems. But, she said, there always has been a barrier between those families and those who'd like to help, because the state can't divulge their identities.
"We always know there are community members and church members who want to help, but they don't know about the need because of confidentiality requirements," Briggs said. "This helps us tear down that barrier and say 'Here's the need — who can help us?'"
CarePortal allows DHS workers to enter a need, such as coats for foster children, or new beds for a family taking in a sibling set, and churches and individuals can provide the needed items without the family's identity being revealed.
"It's a connection to the community, maintaining the privacy of families and children, while letting the community know the needs we have," Briggs said.
"We have seen so many examples of the CarePortal making a difference in other communities," Briggs said.
In a press release, she gave the example of a child welfare worker who put on CarePortal a request for toddler and twin beds to keep siblings together in a home. One community member stepped forward to meet the need for the toddler bed and delivered the bed to the worker. Then, a furniture business owner provided the twin bed and made arrangements for pick-up.
Other requests have included mechanical help for a family’s vehicle, bus or other transportation passes, special formula for infants, car seats, volunteering needs and many others, according to the DHS press release.
In addition to adoptive and foster families, Briggs said CarePortal can help families meet requirements for reunification with their children, such as electrical work, roof repairs or other home repairs needed for the children's health and safety.
"The opportunities for community outreach are endless," according to the DHS press release. "And the possible growth and connection of our entire community can be fantastic. DHS needs the community’s help. Working to meet the needs of children and families in our state is not a job we can do alone."
Sarah Herrian, of Five80 Coffeehouse and Forgotten Ministries, is helping DHS organize church and community support in Garfield County to provide that help.
"I feel like my role at this point is to not only advocate for these kids, but to encourage the church to get involved in some capacity," Herrian said, "and that was really the driving force to bringing CarePortal to Garfield County, because I was amazed at the platform it created between the state and the church."
Herrian said the call for help spans all denominations, and is open to "any church that wants to say yes," as well as businesses, individuals, civic groups and "anybody who has a passion for it."
"It is a really incredible time," Herrian said, "and I could not be more thrilled to empower the church to really get involved."
Herrian's passion for helping children and families in the adoption and foster care programs is born of her own family's experience adopting and fostering children in need.
About five years ago, when she and husband Jeremiah decided to grow their family, they turned to adoption.
"We always wanted to grow our family through adoption — it was something that was always a topic in our family," Herrian said. "We were in a community where a lot of people in our church were adopting, and it was something we always thought we'd do as a couple."
It took about a year to complete the adoption process before the Herrians adopted their daughters, Evangelina and Annie, now ages 14 and 6, respectively.
When they began looking into adopting more children about two years ago, Herrian said their attention turned instead to fostering children in need.
"What made me say yes to foster care were the statistics," Herrian said. "The statistics hit me over the head ... I knew I really had to do something."
There are almost 9,600 children in state custody in Oklahoma, and more than 200 of those are in Garfield and Grant counties, according to DHS.
Of children in state custody, 35-45% will need foster homes, group home or in-patient care, and roughly half of children in foster care eventually will be eligible for adoption.
There are more than 350 children on any given day who are legally free and waiting for adoptive families, according to DHS, and more than 1,000 children in state custody have a goal of adoption.
But, Briggs said, there is a shortage in Garfield County of families willing and able to take in foster children.
"We're always looking for new foster care homes," she said. Currently, more than 35 children from Garfield and Grant counties are living with foster families in other parts of the state, because of insufficient foster care in the local area.
"We're simply not meeting the need here," Briggs said.
She said the populations most in need are teenage children, sibling sets of three or more children, and children with special and medical needs.
When Herrian heard those needs, she said she and Jeremiah knew they needed to help provide foster care.
"I heard the statistics on a Monday, and I said yes on a Tuesday," she said. "I knew at that point I wanted to be on the journey of foster care."
Thus far, the Herrians have fostered 10 children in their home, with an emphasis on sibling sets.
Herrian said that experience has been an invaluable blessing for her family. She acknowledged not all families are in a position to be able to foster children. But, she said, most families and churches are in a position to help.
"Not everyone is called to be a foster parent, but I believe we all are called to support children in need," Herrian said, "and to come alongside them or the families caring for them."
DHS will host two upcoming workshops to share information and answer questions on becoming an adoptive or foster family. Both workshops are on Dec. 3: the first at 5 p.m. at Five80 Coffeehouse, 122 E. Randolph, and the second at 6:30 p.m. at Grace Care, 1909 W. Garriott.
For churches, individuals or other groups interested in helping foster and adoptive families, a CarePortal community launch event is planned for 10 a.m. Dec. 11 at Five80 Coffeehouse, 122 E. Randolph.
To learn more about CarePortal visit https://careportal.org.
For more information on becoming a foster or adoptive family, contact Linda Briggs, DHS Foster Care and Adoption Recruiter, at (580)548-2055.