Future Unclear For Tulsa Children's Shelter

Wednesday, March 11th 2009, 10:14 pm
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Oklahoma's shelters for abused children are on the chopping block as part of a plan to reform the state's Department of Human Services.

But the reforms aimed at helping children in crisis have some child advocates up in arms.

House Bill 1734 passed with an overwhelming majority, but the bill has prompted a public rebuke.

An ad in Monday's Tulsa World blasts lawmakers and defends the Laura Dester Shelter.

"We must think of the children's well being first," it said. "We must protect these innocent children."

The full-page ad isn't just talking about the plight of children in crisis but also the future of Tulsa's Laura Dester Emergency Children's Shelter.

A recent state audit criticized Laura Dester and another state run-shelter in Oklahoma City. They were described as overcrowded and understaffed.

Some claim they could be doing more harm than good to children who are already suffering.

"Shelters are very impersonal and very frightening to young kids, and we need to reduce the use of shelters," said Rep. Ron Peters, R-Tulsa.

This week, state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1734, which would phase out the big emergency shelters.

Some child advocates say this is a mistake.

"What critics do not want to see is that it takes time to place the children and some must temporarily stay at the shelter," the ad says. "To ignore this is folly."

The ad points to children found at meth labs, some burned by the dangerous materials used to concoct the drugs.

Right now, police can immediately take those children out of those homes and to the shelter.

"What is to be done with the multitude of innocent children with no safe place to call home?" the ad asks.

State lawmakers say shelters like Laura Dester wouldn't disappear overnight but would be phased out over a period of time.

The idea is to place more children in emergency foster homes and not big institutions, but foster care advocates say there are not enough to go around.

The DHS audit recommendation was two-fold, to phase out big shelters and put more money and resources into recruiting and retaining foster homes.

House Bill 1734 doesn't do anything to increase the number of foster homes. It just says more should be used.

If you would like to tell us about your experience with Laura Dester Shelter, please send us an e-mail.