Oklahoma United Methodist Circle of Care hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to open a new foster family home, meant to help keep siblings together when they enter foster care.
Circle of Care, the United Methodist Church (UMC) nonprofit foster agency in Oklahoma, contracts with Oklahoma DHS to provide foster family recruitment and placement. The group opened Holsinger Home, in the 3300 block of North Oakwood, in 1999 on land and with funds donated by the Holsinger family.
The family later provided Circle of Care a $4 million endowment to continue providing foster care at the home. It was earnings from that endowment that enabled Circle of Care to expand with the new house, said Circle of Care president and CEO Keith Howard.
"The fact that we are able to stand on this piece of land, and we're able to build this, goes back to the Holsinger family," Howard said. "Their legacy continues here in the community, with serving people in need through what we're able to do here."
The first home serves six to eight children, and the new home will serve another six children — all in sibling groups, usually of more than two children.
According to Circle of Care figures, more than 700 children in the Oklahoma foster care system are currently separated from their siblings.
Howard said the goal of the new home is to help ease that burden in the Enid area, and to serve sibling sets from or close to Garfield County, so they will be close enough to hopefully be reunited with their family if and when they come out of foster care.
Circle of Care broke ground on the new home last March, and recently completed its construction at a cost of approximately $280,000.
Bishop James Nunn, resident bishop of the Oklahoma Area of the United Methodist Church, was present to cut the ribbon for the new home Friday, and thanked Circle of Care staff, foster families and local donors for helping provide foster care to children in need.
"People's lives will be different because of the investment you have made here, and that Circle of Care makes throughout the state," Nunn said.
Nunn said the Holsinger Home, and the mission to improve access to foster care in general, is a long, sustained effort.
"The vision started here before us, and will continue after we are gone," Nunn said. "It is a multi-generational effort for good."
And, he said, the "need has never been greater" for that effort.
Statistics provided by Oklahoma DHS underscore Nunn's comments. There are almost 9,600 children in state custody in Oklahoma, according to DHS.
More than a third of those children need recruited foster homes or higher levels of care like group homes or in-patient treatment, and on any given day there are more than 350 children who are waiting for adoptive families. More than 60 percent of children in foster care are under the age of 12, and most have brothers and sisters also in care, according to DHS.
Keli Caffey, Circle of Care family specialist for Enid, said it was that need that drew her to the foster care field. She's worked for Circle of Care for six months, but her first exposure to the system was as a foster parent.
Over the last five years, Caffey has fostered 10 children and has adopted two children out of foster care. She said that experience showed her the need for the services Circle of Care and DHS provide for children in the foster care system.
"I was led by God to begin fostering," Caffey said, "and as I went through that experience I realized there were a lot of gaps that needed to be filled."
Caffey said those gaps are persistent in Enid.
"We have a pretty great need here in Enid," Caffey said. "Enid has a lot of poverty, and a lot of kids who are misplaced outside of Garfield County because we don't have enough foster families in this area."
Bradley and Shayla Barrick said they hoped to help fill that need when they signed up to be foster parents, and then signed on to be the foster parents in the new Holsinger Home.
"For us, we talked about it for a while, and we just started praying about it, and we felt like it was what we're supposed to do," Bradley said.
The Barricks have four children of their own — three of whom still live at home — ranging in age from 10 to 20. And, since August, they have two foster children, ages 1 and 2.
Bradley said they were immediately attracted to the opportunity to live in a home that was built from the ground up with foster kids in mind — both because of the home and for the chance to live in a network devoted to fostering kids in need.
"It's a better layout, and we get community here and the support of others who believe in fostering," Bradley said. "For us, this is a ministry to help foster kids for many years. We felt like this is a perfect opportunity to do what we feel God's put in our hearts."
Taking on up to six kids at a time can be a big challenge, but Shayla said their older kids are excited to help with the younger foster children. And, for her, mothering toddlers is "just as enjoyable as it was 20 years ago."
The side benefit of fostering, Shayla said, is she hopes to teach her older children empathy, service and to realize the blessings they have.
Bradley said the family is benefiting at least as much as the children they foster.
"We feel like we're helping to change these kids' lives," he said, "and in a unique way, they're changing our lives too."
The Barricks want other families to share in their experience, and hope more families will sign up to foster children in need.
"We are encouraging everyone we come in contact with to do it," Shayla said. "If everyone helped one kid in foster care, there wouldn't be a need for group homes and some of the institutions kids are in."
Anyone interested in fostering, or just learning more about the process, can visit the Oklahoma DHS Fosters Initiative at https://okfosters.org or call Keli Caffey with Circle of Care at (918) 740-0845.