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Nonprofit Helps Tulsa Kids Get Ready For Transition When Shelter Closes

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TULSA, Oklahoma -

Oklahoma's Department of Human Services says it plans to close Tulsa's Laura Dester Children's Shelter in six to nine months.

The agency has been trying to fix problems exposed in a federal class action lawsuit, part of the agreement was for DHS to shut down its Tulsa and Oklahoma City shelters.

The goal is to get all of those kids out of shelters and into foster homes.

And while DHS said its seen a large increase in certified foster homes, there's still a shortage, and the state wants to find 450 more foster homes by the summer.

The Tulsa Advocates for the Protection of Children Resource Center provides the essentials for children in the foster system.

It's where many foster parents do their shopping.

“It seems like every month we do, we exceed our statistics from the prior year,” Tulsa County Welfare Resource Volunteer Coordinator Maura Brown said.

Clothes, shoes, carseats, books and even beds for foster children can be found here – all at a price that can't be beat – free.

“It helps everybody. It's just a Godsend,” said Norma Fisher, a therapeutic foster mother.

But the nonprofit group delves in even deeper with three classrooms and two offices at the Laura Dester Children's Center.

Executive Director Kami Collins said TAPC screens and assesses children at the shelter who haven't been placed, and many of them come in with behavioral issues.

TAPC determines grade levels, health backgrounds and ultimately the type of family where the child would fit best.

For Collins, closing the shelter raises some concerns.

“These kids, they're vulnerable and they need our help,” Collins said.

DHS said shelters that are underutilized now were dealing with overcrowding two years ago.

Spokesperson Sheree Powell said the population at the state's two shelters dropped from 117 last January to 86 this year.

“Where will they go if there's not a shelter?” therapeutic foster mother Jo Hurd said.

Powell said DHS doesn't have all the answers yet, but children in limbo would likely go to a smaller group home where they could get the treatment they need.

And regardless the outcome, TAPC will still be there.

“We're here to stay. We've been here since 1948 and we've been able to adapt to the changing needs of the child welfare system for 67 years now,” Collins said. "We'll keep it at the shelter for as long as we can and our hope as we grow here to be able to provide tutoring/mentoring and still be able to make the referrals and assessments."

Powell said assessments and evaluations are a vital function of shelters, so DHS will working with groups, like TAPC, to find the best ways to move forward.

News on the shelter's closing came a little faster than some may have expected, according to Powell, but she said it will be in the best interest of the children to be in a family-like setting.

DHS said the six to nine month timeframe is flexible. If, nine months down the road the shelter is still needed, the agency will re-evaluate.

TAPC thrives through donations and fundraisers. Its biggest fundraising event, Dancing for the Little Stars, will be held March 7 at the OU Schusterman Center. For ticket information or how to donate, contact Kami Collins at 918-728-6726.

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