46 Children & Counting

A familiar saying says, “Home is where the heart is,” but this is a statement many children never have the opportunity to learn. Thanks to the blessings provided by foster families and adoptive families, however, more children are getting the chance to experience the feeling of “home” first-hand.

According to one foster care website (www.fostercaremonth.org), 518,000 children are in foster care across America. As of last fall, 12,170 of that number were Oklahomans.

“Most children are placed temporarily in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect,” the website explained.

Cathy Shipman, a foster parent from Edmond said, “Sometimes foster care is short-term just so a parent can have some time to correct a situation or make things better.”

The website explained that the average age of an Oklahoma child living in foster care is 8.1 years old. At the time the information was gathered, children stayed in the system, on average, about 21.2 months. Upon release from the program, half the children were sent back to live with either their birth parents or their primary care givers.

The adoption rate for children in foster care is not bad, but could be better. Of those adopted during the fiscal year of 2005, non-relative foster parents legally adopted 42 percent and relatives adopted 41 percent.

Shipman and her husband Duane open not only their home, but also their hearts to children in need. Over the past 14 years, the Shipmans have fostered 46 children from newborns to 11 years old. The family spent six years as a Department of Human Services foster family and the last eight as a Christian Services of Oklahoma foster family.

The couple, along with their own children, two biological and one adopted, began serving in this capacity in 1992 when some friends asked them to watch their foster children while they were out of town.

“We felt we should be certified to do respite care and it was something we became interested in doing as a family for other children as well,” Shipman said.

The process for becoming a foster family involved an application, fingerprinting, background checks, interviews, training and references. The Shipmans explained that the process is different according to the organization doing the screening. For example, DHS currently requires 27 hours of training to become a certified foster parent.

“For Christian Services, it’s about the same, but there is more leeway and creativity on training, and you have to be Christians,” Shipman said.

She added that information about available adoptive families is made accessible so birth mothers can, in some cases, meet a family beforehand.

As for advice for families who want to become foster parents, the Shipmans said, “sleepless nights, interrupted meals and schedules, heartache, and sacrifice are not vague possibilities, but distinct probabilities.”

“It goes without saying, you also have to love children just as they are,” Shipman added.

However frustrating the process may be at times, the rewards are much greater. The Shipmans said being able to send a child on to a home of their own and knowing your own family was able to help with the transition is an amazing feeling of accomplishment for all involved.

“You feel you’ve done something meaningful. You’re still sad because you’ve devoted your whole being to the welfare of that child, yet you always look forward to the next one,” Shipman said.

The Shipmans lives have changed because of their involvement in foster programs. Cathy said they are not only more compassionate but they have also learned “the importance of finding your niche to help improve the lives of people in crisis situations. The world’s youngest citizens aren’t able to protect themselves from or speak out against indifference or abuse or neglect.”

When a child gets adopted through Christian Services, the agency holds a special celebration. Shipman explained that they try to make each “ceremony” unique, incorporating nursery designs or something related to the interests of the parent into the themes. Staff members, other foster parents, and members of the new family as well as the birth parents of the child are all welcomed to attend.

Shipman said sometimes the new families stay in touch and keep them updated on the children, but sometimes they do not.

“We’re happy and sad and excited all at the same time,” Shipman said. “We may have loved that child for a long while and then never hear from him or her again. Even if we don’t, we’re grateful for the time we had together.”

Devonne Carter, Executive Director of Christian Services of Oklahoma, said serving children through adoption is an honor. She added that the agency also serves women in crisis pregnancy situations.

“We can be reached by phone at (405) 216-5240,” Carter said.

For information on becoming a foster parent, contact the Department of Human Services at 800-376-9729 or visit http://www.okdhs.org/fostercare/. For other information, call the National Foster Parent Association at 800-557-5238 or visit www.nfpainc.org.

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