Change a life, become a foster parent
By Chris Jennings
May 1, 2022
There are children across the country who don’t know if they’re going to get a meal; they don’t know if they’ll be able to bathe; some don’t even know where their parents are.
When situations get this dire, many of these children are placed into foster care. Foster care is when a child is taken into protective custody because their home environment is not safe, whether from neglect, abuse or unsafe living conditions.
There are currently over 450 Choctaw children in either state or tribal custody who need foster homes. According to Foster Care Recruiter for the Choctaw Nation, Julie McElyea, nearly 250 are within the Choctaw reservation boundaries. The number Choctaw foster homes has gone up slightly to 69 recently, but that’s not enough. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be to house all those children,” said McElyea.
McElyea says that initially, they try to place kids with a kinship. Kinship is someone who has an existing relationship with them. “Preferably family; if not, it can be somebody like a teacher, preacher, aunt, uncle, grandparent or just somebody that has a relationship with that child,” said McElyea.
If a kinship can’t be found, they start to look for traditional foster homes. There are several types of foster homes. Traditional homes will provide care for extended periods. Emergency homes offer short-term housing for up to a week until family or a traditional foster home can be found. Respite homes offer breaks for other foster families when the need arises.
The Tur family has fostered 25 Native kids, usually aged 6 to 12. Kayla Tur said that initially, her husband had some worries about fostering. “He was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to love other kids like he could his [own] kids, and he was concerned that they would be able to tell the difference,” she said.
After the first one, they both agreed they needed to keep fostering. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, after fostering several kids through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, that the Turs began to work with the Choctaw Nation foster program.
Tur saw a post on the Foster Care and Adoptive Association of Oklahoma Facebook group about an 11-year-old Choctaw boy who needed therapeutic foster care. Therapeutic foster care is required when the child has additional mental or physical needs, which the Turs had not had training in, so she scrolled past. After seeing the post several more times, she took it as a sign and requested more information.
The boy had been placed in 14 homes, with many placements not lasting more than a week. Tur made a commitment that changed this boy’s life, saying, “I will guarantee you 30 days; if he’s extremely hard, I will at least give 30 days.”
During the first 30 days, Tur relied heavily on her village for support. Still, she says it was hard, “It was very, very hard. I was in the bathroom crying a lot…but we made it 30 days, and I was like, okay, well, if I can make it 30, I can make it 60.” said Tur.
It’s been three years since that first 30 days, and the Turs are on a solid plan with the boy’s biological father for reunification.
This is a prime example of the Choctaw Nation foster program goal. “We take children and provide them with a safe and loving environment for them to thrive in. We also work with their families for reunification. Reunification is always the goal,” McElyea said.
In many cases, parents who have lost their kids come from homes that may not have been a nurturing environment, so they may not know how to be good parents. “Some of our biological families that have lost custody of their kids may not know the appropriate way to change a diaper or know that what they did was wrong. So you have to have foster families willing to model appropriate behaviors for them. That helps them in the reunification process,” said McElyea.
“Every time I have kids, I reach out to their family members,” said Tur.
Keeping family ties is essential. It gives a sense of belonging and helps children identify with who they are, where they came from and their culture. “So much of their heritage has already been lost through the Trail of Tears and in boarding schools that it’s important to keep them connected,” McElyea said.
Culture can be a great source of strength and pride. It can be one of the things that helps a foster child keep their head up. The Nation offers assistance with cultural events and virtual classes on Choctaw culture.
“It’s very important for us, for our foster families, to be able to share that culture with them…We host numerous trainings throughout the year, trying to teach them more about our culture,” said McElyea.
The foster kids aren’t the only ones learning from the fostering experience. Tur has four kids, two biological and two adopted children, whom she says have learned from being part of a foster family. “They’ve grown in compassion, and I feel like they no longer are as judgmental of other people,” said Tur.
The kids say that sometimes it’s nice having other kids around to play with, but sometimes it’s hard, too.
Avery Tur, 17, says sometimes it’s hard not to seem appreciated. “When the kids don’t realize how much we’re helping them, and they don’t appreciate it, but I know they’re young and have been through a lot,” she said McElyea says one of the biggest deterrents for people considering fostering kids is attachment, “Everybody says they would love to do it, but they don’t want to get attached. And that’s when you tell them that they need to get attached because those kids don’t have anybody attached to them right now,” she said.
Zane Tur, 15, says he misses the kids when they leave. “It feels empty and that something is missing. You wonder if they will get the same treatment when they leave,” he said.
Avery Tur echoes that, saying, “A lot of times when kids leave, there is more silence than there was before, and it’s hard knowing if we did enough to help them. You can’t help but wonder if they will do just as well when they aren’t in your home,” she said.
When asked what he wanted to say to people considering opening their homes to foster kids, the Turs’ Choctaw foster child said, “Fostering gives kids more friends, so you should do it.”
Sometimes the best thing that can happen for these foster kids is for someone to see them, to take them in and love them, to be their friend.
If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, there are some requirements before being approved.
You or your spouse must be an enrolled member of any federally recognized tribe.
- You can be single or married.
- You must be at least 21 years of age.
- You must have the emotional, physical, and financial abilities to provide for a child’s needs.
- You must submit to a search of all state and national criminal history records.
- You must ensure that no household member has a prior conviction of a sexual offense.
- You must attend pre-service training.
- You must ensure that no household member has a confirmed child welfare history.
- You must provide information for a family assessment (home study).
- The approval process, including the necessary criminal background and child welfare checks, usually takes about 90-days but could take longer.
The Choctaw Nation is currently looking for all home types. They accept single individuals, married couples and domestic partnerships as foster parents. For the most current application or more information, go to choctawnation.com/services/foster-care/.