foster care

CNO asks eligible tribal members to consider opening their hearts and homes to foster care

By Kendra Germany-Wall
September 1, 2023

In America, foster care homes are now in short supply.

Many states have reported a decrease in the number of homes since the beginning of the pandemic, and the Choctaw Nation is also feeling those effects.

Recruiting foster families has become a priority for systems, including the Choctaw Nation’s Children and Family Services.

While in foster care, children may live with relatives, in group homes or foster homes.

In nearly all cases, the goal is the reunification of children with their families.

However, foster homes are a necessary part of the process and are desperately needed.

In the U.S., over 407,000 children and youth are in foster care, and 34% were placed with relatives or kin, according to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) FY 2020 data.

Nationally, American Indian and Alaskan Native children are overrepresented in the foster care system at more than 1.6 times the expected level, according to National Indian Child Welfare reported statics.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was enacted in 1978 in response to a crisis affecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, families and tribes.

The Supreme Court handed down a major decision Thursday, June 15, 2023, affirming the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act by a 7-2 vote.

While the decision to uphold ICWA is a victory for tribal sovereignty, there is still one issue on the table—the need for more tribal foster homes.

Within the Choctaw Nation, the Children and Family Services program collaborates with state workers and the courts to ensure safe, stable and nurturing homes for Choctaw children.

This program works on behalf of Choctaw children and families in accordance with ICWA.

Choctaw Nation social workers join with state workers and the courts to ensure safe and healthy placements for Choctaw children removed from their homes, including finding Choctaw foster and adoptive homes to prevent placement in non-Indian homes.

ICWA allows placement preferences for Choctaw children when they are removed from their homes and placed in the legal custody of an agency other than the Choctaw Nation.

According to Robert Whitfield, a foster care recruiter with Choctaw Children and Family Services, there are hundreds of Choctaw children within the foster care system.

When seeking to place a Choctaw child in a pre-adoptive home, Choctaw Nation placement preferences include:

  • A biological parent.
  • A member of the child’s extended family.
  • A foster home licensed by the Choctaw Nation.
  • A foster home licensed or approved by another Indian tribe.
  • An Indian foster home licensed or approved by a non-Indian licensing authority.

Choctaw ICW Oklahoma offices are in Ardmore, Coalgate, Durant, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Oklahoma City, Stigler and Poteau.

How to Become a Foster Parent

The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma asks anyone qualified and who feels led to help to consider becoming a Choctaw Nation foster parent.

To become a foster parent, individuals must meet the eligibility requirements:

  • An enrolled member of any federally recognized tribe (individual or spouse).
  • At least 21 years of age.
  • Have the emotional, physical and financial abilities to provide for a child’s needs.
  • Submit to a search of all state and national criminal history records.
  • No household member has a prior conviction of a sexual offense.
  • Attend pre-service training.
  • No household member has confirmed child welfare history.
  • Provide information for a family assessment (home study).
  • Fill out an application online at the CNO Foster Care & Adoption webpage.

Traditional Foster Care

Traditional foster care is for those who are willing to care for a child for an undetermined amount of time.

Traditional foster homes have the opportunity to help create a safe and nurturing home for children, provide support and guidance for parents and be a part of helping families heal.

Emergency Foster Care

Emergency fostering plays a significant role in helping children overcome anxiety and fear. This short-term placement is ideal for households and families that exhibit an atmosphere that is calm, caring and attentive to the child’s individual needs.

Emergency foster care is usually just enough time for Children and Family Services to locate a family member and usually ranges from one night to a few days.

Respite Foster Care

Respite foster care is ideal for those who are unable to devote themselves full-time to foster parenting.

Those taking part in respite care will be able to provide relief care for children during scheduled periods depending on the needs of the foster family.

According to Whitfield, those unsure of traditional foster care might consider fostering part-time as a respite home.

“Respite homes offer temporary placement options for homes that are looking for a break. When you offer respite placement, you are stepping into the position as a foster parent for sometimes just a few days, but those few days make a big difference to our full-time homes that sometimes need breaks,” said Whitfield.

Application Process

The first step to becoming a Choctaw foster parent is to fill out the application form which can be found on the Choctaw Foster Care Program webpage.

This application shares information about the home and those living in it. It gives Children and Family Services the information they need to determine whether a home initially qualifies to become a foster home.

Once the application is completed, potential foster parents are assigned to an onboarding specialist who will contact the applicant to schedule local and national background checks. The applicant is not responsible for the cost of the background checks, and any results will be reviewed with the applicant before proceeding with the application process.

Once backgrounds have been reviewed, applicants will be assigned to a foster care specialist. This specialist will visit the potential foster home, ensuring it is a safe space for a child to live in and confirm that there are no concerning conditions in the home. The specialist will also review and assist with additional forms applicants must complete.

Trauma training is a requirement for all foster parents to complete before a foster child can enter their home. This training informs the foster parent about the policies and expectations, along with information that emphasizes the importance of viewing the behaviors of children through the lens of trauma.

This training also explains that foster care’s goal is to reunify the child with their family and stresses strategies to assist in this process.

The assigned specialist will meet with everyone currently living in the home and conduct a home study. A home study tells the foster family’s story and gathers information about their past, such as traditions, feelings about fostering, skills and other experiences.

Every foster child has unique needs. A home study helps Children and Family Services determine the best placement option for each child.

Once all of the above has been completed, a final review is made to ensure everything is completed before final approval is given. All information is reviewed with the foster parents before making a final decision. The entire process of application can take up to 90 days.

After approval, foster parents will be contacted with placement opportunities.

“When you foster, you are not just keeping a child in your home. You are keeping a family together by working cooperatively to ensure that the child can return home safely, said Whitfield. “When you foster, you make a real difference in the life of a child and that child’s family.”

The Hard Questions

Many foster parents have full- time jobs and children of their own. Caring for a foster child is just like caring for your own children. Tak- ing in a foster child should be a decision a family makes together, though.

Social workers develop close relationships with foster children and their foster families. You can expect to see your social worker on a regular basis, and you will work together to do what’s best for the child.

Yes. Certain offenses will disqualify you from being a foster parent.

The Choctaw Nation has plenty of resources for parents who take in a foster child, including baby items like car seats.

The family should be able to provide for themselves before they can provide for a foster child. The Choctaw Nation helps cover the cost of basic necessities like clothes, shoes, food, baby-proofing, and medical care.