With less than a month until the annual fundraiser, members of the nonprofit Tulsa Advocates for the Protection of Children are worried.
The group is closely associated with providing services to the Laura Dester Shelter. With the recent announcement of the shelter’s closure in the next six to nine months, some donors are asking whether the charity event is necessary.
“We’ve had some calls asking if we’re even going to have it,” said Julie Gustafson, former president of the board. “TAPC is not going away. Children are still at the shelter, and we will be there until the last child is placed or we run out of money. But we serve all foster children, wherever they may be. Our mission to help all foster children has not changed.”
Eliminating the shelter is not eliminating the needs that abused and neglected children have when they are coming into foster care. If anything, efforts to find more resources for foster children are being stepped up.
Coming together for kids: Tulsa rallies around children, whether it’s creating early-education programs or providing free museum admission once a month. Abused and neglected children have been a top priority for decades.
In 2003, representatives of 13 child advocacy groups came together over concerns about the trauma experienced by abused and neglected children. That became the Tulsa Child Protection Coalition, which has grown to 21 members.
The nonprofit group functions through collaboration with the Community Service Council of Greater Tulsa. Each member may address a different aspect of child welfare, but all have the same goal of improving the lives of children.
When the emergency shelter located in the old Tulsa Boys Home became a community shame, Tulsans stepped in. The current $12.4 million shelter was built using public and private money, including a $2.14 million gift from the Tulsa Community Foundation.
Though it’s a DHS shelter, it feels liked it’s owned by Tulsans. The institution is supported with pride by many individuals and civic organizations.
Ed Lake, director of the state Department of Human Services, recognizes the facility’s uniqueness. He pledged to let Tulsans decide the next use for the campus.
The era of emergency shelters for foster children is coming to an end. Unfortunately, the abuse and neglect of children is continuing. In December, 11,098 children were in state custody. That’s down from the 11,314 children in state’s care in October but up from 10,333 children at the end of fiscal year 2013.
Children may not be in a shelter, but they will be in a foster or group home.
“We can take on new and different services in the community that are needed,” Gustafson said. “Our goal is still to help protect children. We need to get their needs met in a different way.”
All for the kids: Tulsa Advocates for the Protection of Children, created 67 years ago, has evolved as the state’s child-welfare landscape has changed.
“That’s how it’s been since 1948 — what are the needs and how can we fill it?” said Kami Collins, executive director.
A few years ago, the nonprofit formed a partnership to help foster parents afford the everyday needs of the children they welcome into their homes. The Foster Family Resource Center is a store full of what parents need. Through donations to the nonprofit, the center is able to stay stocked.
It’s not uncommon, especially for the kinship homes, for homes to be unprepared to take the children. Imagine a sibling group of four needing the home of a childless aunt. Or maybe a newborn is placed with guardians who are parents with teenagers.
Traditional and kinship foster parents need help acquiring what is needed fast — cribs, toys, school uniforms and shoes. Families need sports equipment, prom dresses and even the popular makeup and fashions preferred by older youths.
The resource center provides this to Tulsa County foster parents for free. Each holiday, the Christmas for Kids program provides foster parents with gifts for the kids. Last year, 1,700 foster children received presents.
“Our foster parents love it,” Collins said. “It also works as a co-op for some. Foster parents will bring back items they no longer need as they get what they need.”
The nonprofit plans to continue the tutoring and other one-on-one services it now offers at the shelter. It’s possible that a new program could emerge to reach the foster children. It’s also possible a larger resource center will be needed.
This is why the various fundraisers are still important. For Tulsa Advocates for the Protection of Children, its “Dancing for Little Stars” event on March 7 will be just as grand as ever.
“All the money made that night will provide more for foster children,” Gustafson said. “It all goes back to the kids.”