Caring for Children
Foster families are desperately needed in Okmulgee County.
Heather Huff, Child Welfare Specialist for Region IV Foster Care and Adoption Recruitment, stated there are 7,600 children in foster care. In Okmulgee County, there are 151 children in foster care and, of those, 38 are placed outside of the county since there were not enough homes.
Many people may have never considered becoming a foster parent, or if they have, felt it was too big of a challenge to surmount.
One Okmulgee County foster parent shared his experience with the program with hopes to help those considering the step.
Willard Cully and his wife, Nave, of Henryetta, are experiencing first-hand being foster parents.
He shared his thoughts on the following questions.
How did you hear about the need for foster parents and what inspired you to take steps to become one?
“First of all, I was a foster child myself, so I’ve always known about the foster system,” Willard said. “I saw an ad on Facebook for OKFoster and saw the need for fosters.”
How hard is it to qualify as a foster parent?
According to Cully, it’s not really difficult.
“We had a good recruiter from the Department of Human Services. They are very transparent with the process. They tell you what steps to take. They basically give you the tools and it’s up to you to get it done.”
Willard stated those applying must undergo a physical, submit to fingerprint and background checks and with all the paperwork, it’s up to the applicant to make sure all the steps are completed and documents submitted.
Do you have to be married to be a foster parent?
“You don’t have to be married to be a foster parent,” Huff said. “You can be married, you can be divorced, you can be cohabitating, still living together but not married.”
She added some applicants live with their elderly parents, or have their adult children living with them, even same sex couples.
“There are different family dynamics,” she said.
Do foster parents get training and if so, what is that like?
“So, every potential foster home, you have to do 27 hours of training. And that’s just the beginning. It’s detailed training on what to expect. Ours was online since we started during the pandemic. There were some in-person classes before the pandemic as well.”
How many children have you fostered so far?
“We have had five placements in our home and we’ve done respite care twice. We have had kids with us for a couple of weeks, a month, some for six months. So it really depends … it’s on a case-by-case basis.”
Do you have to accept every child DHS calls you about?
“No, you do not have to. It really depends on your family preference, your family dynamic.”
Willard stated he and his wife have had three kids at one time.
What would you tell people if they were concerned about getting too attached?
“I would say attachment is necessary,” Willard said. “Necessary for mental health, necessary for nourishment… that’s why we are here. Not saying they (the children) were not loved, … but to know we are here for them, we do love them and there is more out there than the situation they are coming from. Without that attachment, it’s not possible.
“We are all about family connections, because I was a foster kid with four other children - there were five of us - and if I didn’t have that family connection I don’t know what would have happened,” he said. “If I didn’t have that attachment, I don’t know where I would be right now… or who I would be… I don’t believe you can become too attached.”
“We would rather children be placed with someone that gets attached than one that doesn’t get attached,” Huff said. “We want people to get attached.”
Do you get reimbursement and do you get paid childcare?
“We do get a monthly stipend for children in our care and there is paid childcare,” Willard said. Reimbursement also varies by the age of the child.
Once being accepted
There’s several things, Willard stated. as a foster parent, lots of resources and help are at one’s disposal.
Willard and his wife make use of online support groups in addition to having regular contact with the child’s caseworker along with DHS employees.
“The biggest support comes from permanency workers,” Willard said. “They are very big advocates for the kids in their care.”
Foster care, Huff noted, is only temporary, which allows the parent(s) to work on their issues, while ensuring the children are in a safe environment.
What’s one positive thing you would tell people about fostering?
There’s several things, Willard stated.
“For me and my wife, we haven’t been blessed to conceive right now, and we were kind of in a place of kind of going through the motions of the day, but then one day we just realized ‘what are we waiting on.’ What’s the hold up? There are so many kids out there that need you.
“I would say it is scary, but our fear is second to what these kids need,” he said.
Some are afraid of fostering older children or teenagers. What’s your take on that?
Willard stated there are lots of positives about fostering teenagers.
“Right out the gate, we had teenagers,” he said. “But they are and can be self-sufficient. They can bathe themselves… get their own drinks and the teens do help out with the younger ones.”
Involvement in school and extra-curricular activities are also important to make sure the child feels like they belong.
For more information, visit https://okfosters.org/ or call Heather Huff at 918-606-2449 for more information.
To apply, see https://www.okbenefits.org/en/childwelfarehome
In the upcoming months, the Okmulgee Times will visit with some other foster parents, both single and married, about the experience and joys of being a foster parents.