Kelly loved fostering babies and keeping them out of the local shelter. She loved getting to know the children and advocating for the care they needed. Most of all, she simply loved having babies around.
What she didn’t love was the frustration that came from working with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS).
Kelly’s calls to caseworkers would go ignored for weeks. The babies she fostered were almost always sick and needed medical care that DHS failed to provide. She battled for visits between children and their caseworkers, birth parents and siblings. And she struggled to obtain even the most basic information about the children she was expected to care for.
“One time I was told I was going to get a baby boy at the shelter who was five months old. And that child ended up being a seven month old little girl,” Kelly said during an interview with Children’s Rights. “How do they get the sex and age of the child completely wrong? A lot of that happened.”
Kelly has many more stories to tell. Like the time she says she was forced to hand a baby to another foster family without filling out any paper work, and continued to receive calls from doctors and lawyers about the child. Or, the time she called DHS every day for two weeks to ask for information on a baby in her care. Kelly said DHS dropped the ball on transferring the baby to a new caseworker, and no one at the agency would talk to her about the child.
Kelly had been prepared to testify in court to her frustration and the effect Oklahoma’s failing foster care system had on abused and neglected children, but Oklahoma officials recently agreed to develop a court-ordered plan to fix foster care. The settlement agreement resolved a lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights and Tulsa-based law firm Frederic Dorwart Lawyers that sought widespread reforms and asserted the system essentially operates without standards or accountability.
Kelly was set to tell the court that babies from the shelter came to her home with scabies, lice, diaper rashes and coughs. In the two years she and her husband were foster parents, 19 of the 21 kids they cared for were sick, she said.
As an emergency foster home, the couple would pick up kids from the shelter and care for them for short periods of time while caseworkers looked for longer term homes.
At least, that was the plan.
Kelly learned that after children left their home, they often continued to bounce between foster homes. She heard one little boy was in the shelter and four different homes within his first week in foster care. The boy had autistic tendencies that Kelly was not told about or trained to care for. Kelly blames the frequent moves on caseworkers who refuse to share information on kids with foster parents, out of fear that foster parents wouldn’t take the kids in.
“I was very frustrated with the system overall,” Kelly said. “I didn’t feel like they did what was best for the child all of the time.”