Fostering Better Outcomes
Jennifer Abney wants Oklahoma kids facing troubled lives to have better outcomes. She wants it fiercely. So fiercely, in fact, that she started an organization for foster children that smashed previous success rates and has mobilized the whole state of Oklahoma in the process.
It started with one child—the child she didn’t have. “My husband and I tried to have a child for 13 years, but it didn’t happen, so we decided to become foster parents. We fostered Desi for two years in California and then adopted her. During that first week of adoption, we found out we were pregnant with Kate.”
The family moved to Oklahoma and discovered the state’s foster care system was facing challenges. Jennifer wanted to see improvements and decided, “If not me, who?” So, she started Angels Foster Family Network in 2011. The agency has helped 3,500 children find permanent homes within only 8-12 months. Additionally, Jennifer created a huge network of non-profits who help each other by filling specific needs for these children, from safety to trauma care.
The work is extremely gratifying. “Foster children look haunted and hollow at the time of placement. They’re pulled away from everything they know. It’s up to me to get them with an amazing family. Literally two weeks after placement, they look like different kids. They look happy and peaceful, like they belong. That’s what love can do in a short period of time.”
Jennifer works hard to match the perfect families, but she believes in divine timing. One Christmas Eve stands out in her mind. “I got a call about a murder/suicide case in which a baby needed emergency placement. I called a couple who had just become certified foster parents following a frustrating series of delays which had occurred due to a delayed cat vaccination tag. Arriving at the shelter, we found out about a nine-year-old sibling. At that same moment, I got a text that the new foster dad had experienced the suicide of his own father when he was nine, but the foster dad said, ‘He can stay with us, too.’ That’s why that cat vaccination had taken so long. The timing was right.”
Timing has recently led Jennifer to an ambitious group of women who are new to the non-profit scene, but are ferociously driven to open a crisis nursery in Oklahoma City. They haven’t even secured a building yet, but they already have 800 volunteers lined up to help as soon as they do! Jennifer is mentoring their team through the non-profit process. Their nursery plan coincides with her own ambition to open a daycare that caters to foster children.
“Finding childcare is a huge roadblock for foster parents. I’m still looking for the right solution, but the more non-profits in Oklahoma working together, the better. These ladies are doing a phenomenal job developing the crisis nursery as a place where parents in an emergency or abusive situation can leave their child in safety. In a state with high rates of child abuse, this fills a huge need,” Jennifer said. “I love partnering with people who want to fix issues for our vulnerable children. I feel rejuvenated as we build this awesome path toward healthy families, piece by piece. Together, we are creating better outcomes for children.”