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Welcoming the children home

Sierra Rains
srains@ardmoreite.com
Prior to his talk, the main speaker at Saturday’s Foster Care and Adoption conference, Jason Johnson, asked individuals who are new to the foster care system to stand up to be recognized. Later, those who have been involved for several years were recognized.

The Ardmore Train Depot was filled with individuals both new and seasoned with the Oklahoma foster care and adoption system on Saturday.

For some, the Foster Care and Adoption conference was a first step towards becoming a foster or adoptive parent, while others said they have been involved with the system for more than 30 years— whether it was because they had fostered or adopted children before, or they worked with the Department of Human Services, or both.

Split into two sessions, those who attended in the morning, had an opportunity to discuss their hopes and fears with like-minded individuals during the session titled as “Re-framing foster care.” The main speaker at the conference, Jason Johnson, said this opportunity is a reminder that they're not alone in the foster care journey.

“Most other environments that we’re in, we’re kind of looked at as these really crazy, strange people who do this strange thing nobody really understands,” Johnson said.

Johnson serves as a well-known speaker and writer in the foster care community and works to encourage families and churches so that they have the support and tools they need to navigate their foster care and adoption experiences. His current family includes several foster kids, with ages ranging from newborns to 23 years old.

Johnson said he and his wife initially became involved with the foster care system after his wife became aware of a situation where a 23-year-old mom had given birth to twins, but did not have the capability to take care of them.

While he said he initially hesitated at the idea, Johnson eventually came to the revelation that there’s never going to be a “right time” to start fostering. While there were many factors such as the age of their biological daughters, money and time, Johnson said what was really holding him back was his fear that he wouldn’t have what it takes to be a foster parent.

“We collectively decided we’re going to do whatever we have to do to make sure these little girls never have to spend one second in foster care,” Johnson said.

The mother and her two twins lived with Johnson for about eight months. “It was frankly mostly awful, with a little bit of wonderful,” Johnson said. However, once they moved out, they ended up taking care of another woman and her child in a similar situation.

Though they have been through many ups and downs— at times feeling like a failure, Johnson said he believes success was determined the moment they said yes to the mother and her child and by staying faithful throughout the experience.

“The expectation is not that we have what it takes to do all of this. In fact the expectation is that we don’t really have what it takes and that’s OK, because there’s actually a lot of power in that,” Johnson said. “The questions that we ask ourselves, the struggles that we have, fears that we have, hopes that we have, never really go away. We just have to learn how to handle them in a healthy and effective way for us to stay along this journey.”

Co-founder and Executive Director of Kehila Park Foster Care Community in Sulphur, Bobby Allison, has also been on a similar journey with his 11 children. Like with any foster family, there are good times and bad times, but Allison said he believes it is worth it.

“I don’t know what we were thinking — we didn’t just get up one day and say ‘Hey let’s foster multiple children’,” Allison said. “You ought to see the chaos trying to get our kids into the van in the morning. The hair pulling, the name calling, ‘You’re not my mom, you’re not my dad’. But you know what, at the end of the day it’s all worth it.”

When Allison was two years old his father passed away, leaving him and his four siblings with his mother, who he said wasn’t capable of taking care of them; and eventually they ended up in the foster care system.

“Through the process of all that, I made a conscious decision, because of some adults stepping in my life, to make a difference in my life and not follow the pathway of some of my family,” Allison said. “I know what I didn’t like growing up, what I saw and I thought ‘If I could ever make a difference, I want to do that’.”

At the age of 50, Allison said he was adopted by an 80-year-old woman, proving that it’s never too late for any children. “Fostering and adoption never ends. I never had a sense of belonging and I was adopted at 50 years old by an 80-year-old woman that just recently passed away.”

Through his nonprofit organization, Kehila Park, Allison serves as an advocate for families involved with the foster care system and said he hopes to be more proactive in the future. There are so many kids in foster care right now, that it’s like trying to plug a boat with a bunch of holes, he said.

“Let me tell you what’s happening in America today, we’re losing our sense of community,” Allison said. “A lot of us probably don’t know that in our neighborhoods, there’s probably a family fixing to die. Their children are fixing to go into care or the parents are going to be incarcerated or something.”

By seeking ways to help at-risk families and prevent them from coming into foster care, Allison said he hopes to break the cycle of foster care for some.

“We’re so caught up in our own worlds — not this crowd — but we’re so caught up in our own worlds that we can’t see those people who are crying for help,” Allison told the crowd at the foster care conference Saturday morning.

At the end of the morning session, a large line of individuals formed to turn in registration sheets to become foster and adoptive parents in to DHS employees.

“For us, at the end of the day, how we measure our success at the end of this journey — whether you’re just now considering getting involved, whether you’re a year in or 30 years in — ultimately, success is defined by our willingness to be faithful,” Johnson said. “To support each other and speak truth into each other.”

To find out more about adopting or fostering a child, visit adoptOKkids.org or call 1-800-376-9729.