LAWTON, Okla_Foster parents are in short supply in Comanche County, but not just any parent can fill this need. These are foster parents who take in kids who have special needs.
Officials at Specialized Alternatives for Families and Youth say last year there were about 30 specialized foster parent homes in the county and that number has dipped to 20 this year.
Since May is National Foster Care Parent Month, the organization said now is the time to raise awareness about foster care.
There are many reasons this is a difficult task, one is the specialized training the parents need to go through in order to care for these children. On top of that, some recent cases in the news have put the Department of Human Services in a bad light, which makes it hard to recruit parents. But one specialized group, and other non-profits like it, is not connected to DHS, other than that both have the goal of helping kids find a nurturing home.
Julie Allen has been a foster parent for 12 years and has had 36 children pass through her home. She said it's very rewarding.
"You have someone that depends on you. You're making a big impact on their life because while they're with you, you give them the love, the care, the home that they might not have had or will ever have."
At times, it can be bitter sweet.
"The best part is knowing that you're helping these children that are needing the help. The worst part is when they leave. These children, when they leave your home they're going to their parents or being adopted out. It can be sad and it can be a joyful time."
Kathleen Jones said people like Allen are in short supply these days. She said SAFY deals specifically with children with special needs and foster parents that receive special training to handle them. When foster parent homes become limited, the children have to go to a shelter. But there's a catch.
"The bad part about that is a lot of the shelters are closing. I mean, there are limited beds already. So, with the shelters closing more homes need to be open."
She said the lack of support may not be the only reason for the decline. She said many people aren't aware of private foster care organizations like SAFY and associate all foster care with the Department of Human Services, which, unfortunately, has a bad stigma.
"I think getting the word out and getting people the knowledge that they need about private foster care agencies. If they know more about it, know the benefits from it, it's not just amount the monthly reimbursement, they're actually impacting these children's lives."
Jones said to become a foster parent through SAFY, you have to be over 21, pass a background check and get specialized training. She said it's not about who makes the most money but who can provide a loving home for the child.
If you want to learn more about becoming a foster parent, you can go to SAFY.org for information or call 800-532-7239.