The fewest children in “a long, long time” are in state custody, Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday.
“At one point a couple of years ago, we had more than 11,000 children in state custody. Now we’re down to 9,400. That’s a remarkable drop,” Fallin said following an appearance at the Tandy Family YMCA in Tulsa.
Oklahoma has been trying to beef up its foster care services as part of a court-mandated improvement to the state’s child welfare system.
And it’s been trying to accomplish the task as state resources dwindle.
One way to do it is to provide aid and incentives through partnerships with nongovernmental agencies. Fallin’s Thursday stop was to tout an agreement with Oklahoma YMCAs to offer half-price memberships and other benefits to foster families.
The YMCAs are also helping publicize the need for foster and adoptive parents through a traveling “heart gallery” of children in state custody.
“A lot of Oklahoma children are still waiting to be fostered or adopted,” Fallin said. “(They) are in need of someone to love them or protect them or help them get their education, to build up the family experience they’re missing, until they can get to a better place.”
According to Fallin’s Oklahoma Fosters Initiative, 350 wards of the state are seeking adoptive or foster parents on any given day.
More than 50 percent of state foster children are placed with family members or friends.
Fallin said she takes child welfare personally because her mother was a social worker.
“Many times in the middle of the night on a weekend, my mother had to get up to help a child that was in danger, to pick them up and take them to a foster family,” Fallin said.