The inevitable is coming: The Laura Dester Shelter will close, but it’s a painful winding-down.

Since the announcement a year ago from DHS with specific dates to end shelter use, Tulsa leaders have been meeting with DHS officials to resolve lingering concerns about what happens to children in emergency removals.

“There have been many substantive and productive meetings to date and we certainly have hit the reset button as far as discussions are concerned. … There are still challenges to overcome, but we can definitely see a path now for improvement in situations where children removed are emergently from dangerous situations.” said Kristine Bridges, Executive Director of the Tulsa County Child Protection Coalition.

Read the entire Tulsa World story by clicking HERE, published March 14, 2016.

Tyler Talley, eCapitol

Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Ed Lake described his agency’s efforts Wednesday in meeting requirements set forth by the Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan to the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Human Services.

The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan is the result of a class action, civil rights lawsuit filed against the agency’s foster care system that included agreements to make required improvements in targeted areas of the state’s Child Welfare system. The plan is intended to guide the agency over the coming years as it works towards making improvements in the way it care for children within the foster care system.

Lake said that efforts DHS has made in meeting the goals of the plan have led to a reduction to the amount of children in the foster care system. This however has not led to an effect on the agency’s savings. DHS has received a total of $108.8 million for the Pinnacle Plan, but has had to reallocate $45.7 million of its own budget in order to meet the plan’s requirements by increasing its workforce to meet the number of children in foster care. These funds cover staffing and services.

When asked by Chair Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, how much staff had been added since the plan’s implementation, Lake said about 900 positions and still hiring.

“We’re at 60 percent of the workload standards, but that’s one of those statistics that’s a little deceiving,” Lake said. He explained that in some areas DHS has already hit the standard.

“It kind of depends on turnovers, size and other issues like that,” he added.

DHS requested an $11.3 million increase to its FY2017 appropriation in order to fund the Pinnacle Plan’s fifth and final year.

“This last amount is primarily, almost exclusively to complete the salary increase work for the child welfare specialists,” Lake said. “At the very beginning, those salaries were pegged at a certain level based on regional and market data…with this appropriation we would meet that mark.”

The requested funds would also go toward the final scheduled rate increase for foster and adoptive families. Lake explained that “well over 90 percent” of the $108.8 million in Pinnacle Plan funding went to these required salary and rate increases.

Lake said he believed staffing to be the most important aspect in ensuring the plan’s success.

“It’s the lynch pin that allows us to continue to do other things that make a difference,” Lake said. “Every time we’ve been able to ratchet up the staffing and focus on these issues, we’ve started to make significant progress.”

He added, “I think from a legislative budget point of view, nobody can say that Oklahoma didn’t live up to its commitments to try to fund the Pinnacle Plan.”

For FY2016, Lake said the agency had made significant reductions to accommodate the three percent revenue failure, including a department-wide hiring freeze with the exception of Child Welfare Specialists.

He continued, “We have reduced contracts paying on their projected spending levels. We have done the same with our program budgets. We did further reduced contacts by three percent. We’ve eliminated or reduced a number of emergency accounts that we have.”

As the agency heads into the upcoming fiscal year and potentially future cuts to its budget, Lake said their budget planning strategy included: continuing to evaluate its expenditures, programs and service priorities; preparing for impacts to its various client services and examining the impacts of reducing potential positions within the agency.

“We can’t fail at child welfare,” Lake said. “If we fail are child welfare, it’s a statement about DHS….we’re going to do all we can to push through, but there will be a price to be paid.”

Lake also outlined some of the agency’s other programs, such as its disability and aging services, face due to a lack sufficient funding due to its requirements to fund the Pinnacle Plan.

“The well is running dry,” Lake said. “That’s just the way it is. I hate it. I don’t like this ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul.'”

Other human services agencies that presented before the subcommittee Wednesday offered their respective appropriation requests as well as the efforts being made to cut costs.

Another agency asking for a change in its appropriations was the Department of Rehabilitation Services. The requested $257,000 funding increase would exclusively be for costs related to both the Oklahoma School for the Blind and the Oklahoma School for the Deaf.

The Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA) requested a flat budget for FY2017. The OJA Board of Directors approved a budget reduction for its FY2016 appropriations in January. Chief of Programs Janelle Bretten, who additionally services as the agency’s interim executive director, and Steven Buck, the incoming OJA executive director, provided committee members examples of the work the agency does throughout the state and its intended goals for the upcoming year.

The Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth offered a 3.0 percent reduced appropriation of $59.186.19.

Concluding the human services subcommittee meeting was the Office of Disability Concerns, who requested a FY2017 flat budget.

Youth Services of Tulsa has come a long way since opening as a coffee shop for homeless and at-risk youth in the late 1960s. Last year, YST assisted more than 17,000 of these individuals.

YST serves Tulsa area youth with programs in four major areas: Youth Development, Counseling, Delinquency Prevention, and Runaway and Homeless Services.

“As the only non-profit agency in Tulsa focused on youth ages 12-24, YST is uniquely equipped to assist youth and families in navigating the adolescent years,” says David Grewe, YST Executive Director.

YST seeks to empower its clients, providing them with the support and stability to achieve their potential. As a learning organization, YST harnesses the power of data. Outcomes, as well as the input of youth, their families, and the Tulsa community, shape the programs YST offers. Because of this, YST programs are recognized as national models for quality and creativity.

YST is perhaps best known in Tulsa for its 24hr/seven-day-a-week adolescent emergency shelter. The shelter is open to youth ages 12-18 who need a place to stay. Youth arrive at the shelter from a number of sources, including the Safe Place program, from schools, parents, other agencies, law enforcement, and of their own accord. The shelter can accommodate 20 individuals, and includes facilities for teenage parents if they arrive with their infants. Also provided are hot meals, clothing (if needed) and access to school.

Last year, the Shelter hosted 501 youth for 4,282 cumulative nights. Of those sheltered, 383 of them found safe placement after the crisis was resolved.

“Utilizing a strengths-based approach, YST staff engage youth in a helping relationship,” says Grewe. “Many times, adults will make a plan for youth. We make sure the adolescents we serve are involved in making their own plan.”

Many of those youth who stayed in the Shelter contacted YST via Safe Place, a national program dedicated to providing youth someplace to go and someone to help. The Tulsa Safe Place program is the largest in the nation. Youth in crisis can find a Safe Place at all Tulsa public libraries, fire stations, EMSA ambulances, Tulsa Transit buses, and QuikTrip locations. In 2015, more than 2,600 Tulsa-area youth learned about Safe Place, and 145 of them received help at a Safe Place location.

Though YST receives support through varied funding sources, there are still gaps. Every year, the organization hosts Blank Canvas as its primary fundraiser. This year, the event’s theme is the T-Town Throwdown. Two teams of chefs square off to create a four-course masterpiece. Sides will be taken, team colors donned, and a year’s worth of bragging rights are at stake.

If you would like to learn more about Youth Services of Tulsa, call 918.582.0061, or visit the organization at, or on Facebook.


The 2016 Oklahoma State of the State Address focused partially on the need for Oklahoma foster homes. Governor Mary Fallin announced her support of the Oklahoma Fosters program and introduced her guests for the day, Chris and Brian Seimens, and two of their sons, Kyle and Alex.  Chris is an active member of the Child Protection Coalition through her employer, the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.

Child Protection Coalition staff sat down with Chris to ask about her experience on February 1st at the Capitol and about her life as a foster parent. Here’s what we learned:

  • When and how were you notified that you would be the guest of honor at the 2016 Oklahoma State of the State Address?

I met Tom Bates, the Governor’s appointee to the Pinnacle Plan, and Ashley Hahn, who is overseeing the Oklahoma Fosters campaign, on Thursday, January 7th, 2016. They were in Tulsa meeting with employees and partners of the Safe Babies Court Team, at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa. We spoke briefly about my experience as a foster parent, the challenges I face but also the great things I sense moving forward particularly with the new Safe Babies Court Team. The following Monday, January 11th, 2016, Ashley contacted me to invite me and my family to be the Governor’s guest at her State of the State speech to represent Oklahoma’s foster families and her Oklahoma Fosters campaign.

  • How did you tell your family?

I immediately called my husband after hanging up the phone with Ashley. Partly in disbelief, partly in tears from excitement, and in total shock. Neither one of us could wrap our brains around the invite, it was completely unexpected and such an honor. The next phone call was to my mom, then to my Executive Director at The Parent Child Center of Tulsa, Desiree Doherty. We were all so excited about the opportunity!

  • How did the kids respond?

I told my older boys (ages 14 and 15) later that evening. They were excited about not only missing school for the day, but also getting to witness and be a part of something that not everyone gets an opportunity to do.

  • When did you first become a foster parent and why did you make that decision?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to adopt children. I never felt the need to give birth to my own children and knew there were children who needed homes. I felt a stronger pull toward helping those children than giving birth to my own. When I was diagnosed with cancer in my early 20’s and found out I wasn’t able to carry a child, I just knew it had always been the plan for me to adopt. Little did I know at that time, it would include me getting heavily involved in the foster care system.

I had a good friend who was a foster parent and taught the foster parent training classes. She convinced us to talk to an OKDHS worker about foster care and attend the classes. We were immediately sold on the idea of providing a temporary home to a child in need, and it felt like something I NEEDED to do. Our first placement moved in with us in March, 2001. He was three days old.

  • How many kids have you fostered and adopted over the years?

My first foster son lived with us for six months before he was reunified with his biological mother. I haven’t had contact with him since, however, we have had some “sightings” of him and he appears to be doing well. During his stay with us, we also had my son, Kyle, who is now 15 years old. Kyle was four months old when he moved in with us. Then, Alex came to live with us at four months of age and he is now 14 years old. Both Kyle and Alex, who are not biological brothers, were adopted around their second birthdays. I went through some changes in my life, put fostering on hold for a while and began again in 2012. Our son, Jay, moved in at age three and a half months and he is now three and a half years old. His adoption was final after his third birthday. We had a foster daughter, Baby L, for about 20 days. She was three months old. We currently have two foster sons, ages two and a half years, and the other is five months old.

  • What do you like best about fostering?

We often get asked “why do you foster”? Our response is typically “Why not? Because we can”. We have a home and the space. We are beyond blessed to be able to provide a temporary, safe home to a child in need and to give him/her a little glimmer of hope needed to recover from whatever trauma he/she experienced. We have learned so much about the children, their families, and the importance of building healthy connections among all parties involved.

  • What advice do you have for folks thinking about fostering?

When people first learn that we’re a foster family, most of the time we hear “Oh, I could never do that. I would get too attached”. My thoughts are “Yes. Yes you would”. But that is the whole point. These children need to feel some sense of safe and healthy attachment with a loving caregiver. Does it hurt when the children leave the home? Absolutely. Do I feel like crying for days on end? You bet. But, the pain and hurt I feel when a child leaves is nothing compared to the pain and hurt that child felt prior to entering custody. I will heal. The child may not.

  • What advice do you have for fellow foster parents?

We are all in this to help the children and their healing process. One of the best role models and examples a foster parent can be to the child is acknowledging the biological family and approach the case as a team. In most all of our cases (when we were able), we worked closely with the biological family and their relationship with the child. We supervise visits, coordinate overnights, invite the biological families to our home, meet them for dinner, etc. It is critical for the child to see a positive relationship being built between the foster family and the biological family.

  • How do you balance working full time while raising kids and being a foster parent?

Thankfully, we have a wonderful support system and employers. Our family and friends help out when they are able, and both of our employers are family friendly.

  • Tell us a little about what you do for the Parent Child Center of Tulsa.

I am the Community Education and Outreach Services Program Manager for The Parent Child Center of Tulsa. I manage the Kids on the Block puppet program. I also oversee the curricula our nurses present to mom’s of newborns in the hospital stressing the importance of talking, reading, and singing to their baby and the prevention of shaken baby syndrome. I promote and advocate the importance of child abuse prevention in the community by presenting to and attending various community meetings and coalitions.

  • Any final thoughts?

It is no secret that Oklahoma is in need of foster families. We not only need families to step up and foster children, we need the RIGHT families to do so. It isn’t easy. Navigating “the system” can be confusing and stressful at times. Working with the children who have been exposed to multiple traumas can be exhausting. Families need to be prepared and know what to expect, as well as have their resources and a wonderful support system ready, before answering the call to foster.

If a family isn’t able to provide a home to a child, there are other ways to help. Be a mentor, offer to babysit, make a meal for a foster family, donate items to the Resource Center, James Mission, or to particular foster families, help with Christmas for Kids, contact DHS to assist with transporting children for visits, etc. There are numerous ways to become involved. The children are worth it. By no fault of their own, are they being asked to deal with something much bigger than they could ever ask for…being taken away from the only family they’ve ever known and sometimes placed in a complete strangers home.

Congratulations to Chris and her family for being recognized and honored by Governor Fallin! Thank you for all you do for our community!

To learn how you can become a foster parent, visit the Oklahoma Fosters website today.

Chris Photo: The Siemens Family – Alex, Jay (top), Brian, Chris, and Kyle


The closure of the Laura Dester Shelter has caused some foster children to be removed from their homes to wait for hours in office buildings and cars at odd times while placements can be found, say Tulsa police and prosecutors.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services agreed to shutter the state’s two emergency shelters for abused and neglected children as part of the Pinnacle Plan, which is the improvement plan from a negotiated settlement agreement to a federal lawsuit approved in 2011. It began implementation the following year in many areas such as caseloads, worker pay, shelter use and number of child transitions.

Oklahoma City’s shelter officially closed in November.

Read the entire Tulsa World article by clicking HERE, published on January 12, 2016.

“We support the Pinnacle Plan and the shelter’s closing. Child welfare research shows that that children and youths recover better when placed in individual homes rather than institutions. For children with challenging behaviors, longer-term group homes are a better option.

But Dester should be closed when it’s safe to do so, not on the basis of an artificial schedule. The shelter’s resident count has dropped from 71 in August. The state is on the right path, but these things take time.”

Read the entire Tulsa World editorial – published on January 2, 2015 – by clicking here. 

“If you think your home is not big enough, it is. If you think you work too much, you don’t. If you think you’ll get too attached, you will. There is no reason that regular people can’t foster. You do not have to be a perfect parent. You just have to be a good enough parent, ”  said Nellie Kelly, who has fostered 15 children in 15 years.

Photo: Tulsa resident Nellie Kelly has fostered 15 children since 2000, four of whom she has adopted. Pictured above, left to right clockwise, are Sunshine, 6; Harley, 19; Judah, 12; Kelly; and Rosa, 11 months.

Click here to read the entire article published by The Frontier on December 27, 2015.

The DHS goal is to recruit 1,000 foster families by July 2016.

Katelynn Burns, DHS communications manager, said every effort possible is being made to raise people’s awareness about the need for foster homes.

Gov. Mary Fallin added the voice of the governor’s office to the urgent call to state residents to step up and help if possible.

“We are trying to bring in the business and faith communities to work together to solve the problem,” she said.

Currently there are 11,000 children in state custody and there is a continuous need for homes as the Laura Dester Home in Tulsa and the Oklahoma City Children’s Shelter are preparing to close.

Read entire Tulsa Business & Legal News Story here – published December 30, 2015.

The Laura Dester Shelter for abused and neglected children will remain open after the first of the year until all the children have found homes, according to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Read entire Tulsa World article by clicking here – published December 26, 2015.

Legislators speak for the children

Change.   Reform.  Co-neutrals.  Pinnacle Plan.  Foster Care Task Force recommendations.  Restructuring DHS.  Children of parents in prison.  Investigating drugs and infants.

The 2012 Oklahoma Legislative session highlighted all of this and more.

At the Coalition’s summer meeting, three Legislators – each active in child advocacy issues – discussed  their observations of the 2012 session.  They are Representatives Jeannie McDaniel, Ron Peters, and Pam Peterson.