Fostering Hope: How Your Family Can Serve Kids Through The Foster Care System
Mindy and Jeffrey Wiggins always knew they wanted to be a foster family. They discussed it on their first date, though they didn’t begin the process until they had been married for six years.
Now, nine years later, the Wiggins family has fostered 13 children aging from two days old to 12 years old. Two of the children have found a permanent home in the Wiggins family.
“I wanted to be part of a community that helps children feel like they have a sense of family and to help families that could stay together, stay together,” Wiggins says. “If families needed a little extra help, I wanted to be part of that help.”
Right now, Oklahoma’s foster care system needs your help. There are about 7,000 Oklahoma children in foster care. Around 1,200 of them are in the Tulsa area. Many of these children are waiting in shelters and have nowhere to go.
Children under 18 years old end up in foster care due to abuse, neglect and abandonment. Becoming a foster family means welcoming children in the system into your home as they seek reunification with their family or adoption.
“We have many children in foster care, not just in Oklahoma but across the U.S., and we have more than enough people to meet the need,” says Comfort Keidel, an OKDHS foster care recruiter and foster and adoptive parent. “We’re not meeting the need, but we could meet the need many times over if people could find it in their hearts to step up, accept a challenge and a beautiful outcome.”
Finding the right family to support each foster child is essential. Keidel says OKDHS needs parents who are understanding of trauma because the removal and separation of a child from their biological family is a trauma itself. Many children in the foster care system have experienced things most would consider unthinkable.
“It’s so important to match children with parents that are understanding and patient,” Keidel says.
Additionally, there’s a need for homes that are LGBTQ+ affirming and homes that are capable of caring for medically fragile children, like the Wiggins family does. To Wiggins, participating in this work means being able to give that sense of family to children that may not have completely experienced that before.
“We just want them to know that they are loved and they are safe, and they can grow and create and be whoever they would like to be,” she says.
For Wiggins, the most rewarding part of being a foster family is seeing children start to think ahead and imagine their future. Her oldest daughter, who was adopted, now dreams of becoming a police officer.
“When you can see them start to think, ‘I could really be something,’ that’s the best part,” Wiggins says.
To begin fostering, interested families start by applying online, after which a recruiter, like Keidel, will reach out. Naturally there’s some paperwork and an assessment to insure the home is safe for children. A home study dives into who the family is and examines their fitness to be foster parents.
The core of the process is a 27-hour online or in-person training. Wiggins says all the information in the class can feel overwhelming at first, but it’s really very informative. It offers information on some of the things the children might have faced and prepares families for what they might see in their home.
Once a family is on the list, they’ll start receiving phone calls about foster children needing a home. Keidel says placement duration is always a case-by-case basis, with placements lasting as long as they need to. Ideally it ends with the child reunified with their parents. If that isn’t possible, then adoption is the next option.
Even if a family can’t open their home to foster children, there are ways for everyone to get involved. Keidel says it’s about being a village for the family.
“Likely everybody knows at least one person who is fostering right now,” Wiggins says. “I would encourage people to do things like bring meals to foster families that you know or help with school supplies.”
Several local organizations assemble backpacks for the first night of a placement. The kit can include essentials, a new outfit and hair care items. These backpacks allow a child who may have arrived with nothing to at least leave with a little something that belongs to them.
Respite care, which provides short term care for foster parents that may have a family emergency, are going on vacation or just need a break, is another way to get involved. Interested families follow the same process as those applying to be a foster family.
“If you’re considering [fostering], then deep down you really want to do it, but you’re concerned about the mechanics of it,” Wiggins says. “If you have a heart for this, you know that. If your heart is in it, then anything else can be overcome.”