OKLAHOMA CITY – Can you imagine waking up every day not knowing where you’ll be sleeping the next night?
On any given day, there are 80 Oklahoma kids sleeping at a shelter. Most are teenagers.
That’s because DHS still needs more families to open their homes to foster care.
“And, a majority of our babies are drug-exposed, are addicted to opioids, cocaine, fetal alcohol syndrome, meth,” said Tonya Ratcliff talking about the foster children she’s welcomed into her home.
Bed after bed fill the bedrooms of Ratcliffe’s home. She and her husband have 13 children living under one roof, eight adopted, three in foster care and two biological children.
“We first came into fostering when I was working at Baptist Medical Center. A police officer was walking in with a car seat. It was empty, and I said ‘Are you taking home a baby?’ ‘I wish I was taking it home. I’m actually taking it to the local shelter,’” she said.
That was 12 years ago. Today, Ratcliff runs a foster care community called Pepper’s Ranch.
Ratcliff is like many members of Life.Church who have stepped forward to foster or adopt a child since they partnered with DHS to encourage families to foster in 2016.
“When we did the ‘how to neighbor’ series, over the next three years, we saw over 260 families step out from Life.Church and say, hey, we’re interested in becoming a foster parent,” said Jon Mays with Life.Church.
Then, this past Sunday, Life.Church delivered a sermon to more than 100,000 of their members about foster care. It garnered a response from more than 2,000 people wanting to help.
Another part of the church’s mission is to help biological families stay together, a belief OKDHS feels is most beneficial for the children when it’s safe.
“Foster families play this incredible role in being able to stabilize the situations so that a biological family can satisfy some of the opportunities they have to stabilize their own lives,” said Director of OKDHS Justin Brown.
Ratcliff and her husband have fostered around 20 children since they started, some who have been able to reunite with their families and others not. Her fulfillment comes from seeing the children blossom through foster care, adoption or reunification.
“The rewards are seeing a child brought to your home, and you look into their eyes, and there’s no hope, there’s no self-esteem, there’s fear, there’s anxiety and, then, that kid, three months, six months down the road, doing a cannonball off the side of the pool and saying, ‘Hey, mommy, look at me,’” she said.