We've all seen it. A young child, running around outside late at night. The little kid who gets off the bus stop and goes inside to an empty house. The parent who screams at their kid at the mall. The kid whose clothes are dirty, who comes to school hungry. You wonder what's going on at home, and sometimes you might make a call to the school or even DHS.
Once DHS takes the kids into custody, then comes the challenge of where to place them. Today in Lawton there are 25 children from birth to age 17 in the local shelters. That's not counting kids who had to be placed elsewhere because there wasn't room or a good fit here in town.
There is a great need in this community for responsible, caring foster parents, especially those willing to step up and take in the "hard to place" kids. Mainly teenagers.
I know a young woman who went through the foster care system and managed to get through it, pursue a professional career and be a responsible member of society.
It wasn't easy, and it's still not. Mom was a meth addict, so was Stepdad. She was almost 13 when the authorities knocked on the door and took her and her younger brother and sister to the shelter.
She spent a month at the shelter, over Christmas and her 13th birthday, and doesn't paint a pretty picture of that experience that happened 12 years ago. I wish I could say she said they were nice and it was a good environment, but that's not how she remembers it. Mean staff, cold food, scratchy bed sheets, kids crying, no contact with Mom, bars on the windows.
Even a kid who's been neglected, and she was, is going to want to go home. She was with her younger brother and sister and, after a month, a family friend had a spare bedroom and took her and her sister in. Little brother had to stay behind.
More trauma. But as for her, that foster care relationship saved her life. She stayed with them for two years, until her mother satisfied the authorities that she was clean and could care for her kids again.
Was she clean? No. Our girl went back to Mom, got pregnant at 15, left home and then, tragically, the baby died at age 2 from a rare, inherited disease that came from the father's side, when our girl was only 17.
But our girl is exceptional. She stayed in school, worked full time,and graduated college. She has a career now and is very proud of her accomplishments. Mom finally got clean, and at last they have a loving relationship, founded on forgiveness, I imagine. But she will always carry with her the scars from that long childhood experience that was beyond her control.
Now she is a single mother with two healthy kids and says her foster parents are the ones who taught her how to live, how to mother her own children. Her foster mother, a woman in her 70s, is the one she went to at 13 when she started her period. The one she went to when she had questions about sex. They are the ones who established rules. Her foster mother is the one she still calls today with a question, the kind of question a daughter calls a mother with, like how to cook chicken in the oven.
Teenagers are never easy, so you can imagine how a teen with such a troubled history might be a real handful. They step into a new home, with its own set of rules that they might have to learn the hard way. Can I get a soda or do I have to ask? Some of them shut down or rebel. Mistakes will happen, but it is a labor of love that comes from the heart and something even bigger from within.
This girl was lucky. As in everything else, there are some adults in the program who aren't the best fit for kids with such a great need. That's why the foster care program needs single or married adults with good, strong values to step in and help. You might even know a child in custody who needs care.
If you think that might be you, you can get the ball rolling by calling the Bridge Resource Support Center at 1-800-376-9729.