DHS: Laura Dester Won't Close Until All Children Find Foster Homes
TULSA, Oklahoma - Oklahoma's Department of Human Services said Tulsa's Laura Dester Children's Center is set to close at the end of the year.
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 - but before the shelter can shut down, there are children in need of homes.
The center was built to be a temporary shelter for Oklahoma children, but DHS said it turned into more of a long-term facility. The goal now is that foster homes will replace shelters.
“We need more foster families, there's no doubt about it,” center director Andrew Robertson said.
There are 27 children currently calling the Laura Dester Children’s Center home. They're there through no fault of their own, but because they've been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents or family members.
“They're not here because of something they've done...it is something that has been done to them,” Robertson said.
The children range between about 7 and 17 years old. Robertson said almost all of the 27 children have special needs - children with both low and high-functioning autism or other intellectual disabilities.
“We also have kids with behavioral challenges that are going through a tough time in their life,” Robertson said.
Because of the extra demands that come with special needs children, Robertson said it's hard to find foster families willing to provide that specialized care; and that's what DHS is looking for - therapeutic homes and families willing to care for children with medical, behavioral and emotional needs.
“We know it's not an easy job, it's not for everybody, but these are Oklahoma's kids, and we need some Oklahoma families to step up and give it a shot,” Robertson said.
And just because the children are struggling with different issues than other kids, doesn’t mean they have different interests. They like sports, video games, watching TV and hanging out with friends.
And just like any other child, they're looking for someone who is willing to take a chance on them.
“We're gonna have to have more resources. We need more families to step up and help. It's gonna take a lot of community collaboration to make sure that these kids are getting their needs met,” Robertson said.
DHS said it will not shut down the shelter until each child finds a foster home.
One idea for the center, once it closes, is to turn it into a care and treatment facility for displaced children with medical and developmental needs. If that were to happen, it would be privately run and DHS would contract the services.
Anyone interested in providing specialized foster care to one of the children at the Laura Dester Center can call Amanda Damon at 918-606-3107.