By: Joshua Danker-Dake | Category: Special Interest | Issue: December 2008
The Choices for Life Foster Care staff: (Standing, L to R) Charlotte Demarais, Maria Carter, Natalie O’Reilly, Greg Stiver, Leslie Yocham, Donna Bonds, Elva Westermark, Lisa Prescott, (Seated, L to R) Heather Hogan and Stephen Barton.
Imagine yourself, if you can, alone at Christmas, with no family, no presents, no hot meal, sharing a room with five other people, with all your belongings locked up in storage so no one can take them. This is how foster children in shelters all over Oklahoma will experience Christmas this year. Choices for Life Foster Care is working to change that.
There are millions of emotionally disturbed children in this country, and the majority of them do not receive the services they need. “There are a lot of children in the shelters – too many,” says Leslie Yocham, supervisor at Choices for Life in Sapulpa. “The shelters are overcrowded. They often have two and three times as many children as they were designed to accommodate. These are children of all ages, from newborns to 18-year-olds. Some of the babies are on monitors, some are on feeding tubes.”
“By becoming a foster parent, you can give the gift of a home to one of these abused or neglected children this Christmas,” says Lisa Prescott, a trainer and recruiter for Choices for Life. Choices for Life Foster Care partners with foster parents to provide therapeutic care to children with psychological, social and emotional needs. Therapeutic foster children need special treatment, including more intensive services not supported by traditional foster care. “These are good kids,” says Stephen Barton, a therapist for Choices for Life. “But they’ve had some bad things happen to them.”
Choices for Life, which has offices in Sapulpa, Oklahoma City, Ponca City and Checotah, also offers outpatient therapy and counseling to children who have been through the foster care system. These services are offered in school settings as well as to the general public.
Choices for Life has recently begun a new program, Early Choices Foster Care, designed for DHS custody children five years old and younger. It provides these children with nurturing from specially-trained foster families who care for them until they are reunited with their families or are adopted.
Being a treatment parent can be a challenging and personally rewarding experience. It’s also a great way to enhance the life of a needy child. Treatment parents are primarily responsible for giving their foster children a corrective living experience that will prepare them for life. Treatment parents are also their primary caregivers and provide transportation, participate in therapy and psychiatric appointments, are involved in school meetings, coordinate social and recreational activities, provide life skills training, and manage medical appointments. Ultimately, treatment foster parents are the primary agents of change in the lives of these children.
Treatment parents aren’t on their own – Choices for Life offers a variety of services to them, including pre-certification, ongoing training and support, screening and matching with children, 24-hour availability for additional support and crisis services, respite care, support groups and family therapy. There is monetary assistance available for foster parents, and training is free.
Those wishing to become treatment parents must meet licensing regulations; the certification process takes about two months. Treatment parents must be at least 21 years of age, have a regular family income and appropriate bedroom space, and must complete the Choices for Life training program, a background check, and a home study.
“A lot of people think they can’t be a foster parent,” says Yocham. “But they can do it. And it can be very fulfilling.” If you are interested in becoming a foster parent to a therapeutic foster child, contact Choices for Life. If you are interested in becoming a foster parent to a non-therapeutic foster child, contact your local DHS office.
For much more information, visit Choices for Life on the web at www.cflfostercare.com. You can also find them on Facebook.