By Kendra Lowden, Foster Care/Adoption Manager
FireLodge Children & Family Services advocates for and protects children and vulnerable adults who are at risk of being abused or neglected. Services provided include court advocacy, investigations, prevention services, parenting education, counseling, foster home approval and adoption. Social services and child welfare programs do not stop services, even amidst a global pandemic. Our team has worked with clients in innovative ways in order to continue offering the support many families greatly need. Through the development of an internal COVID-19 policy, we enhanced personal safety not only for those we serve but also for our staff.
FireLodge Children & Family Services operates four programs: Indian Child Welfare, Foster Care/Adoption, Family Preservation and Adult Protective Services. As 2020 comes to an end, we have reflected on our successes and growths in each program.
Indian Child Welfare
The Indian Child Welfare Program provides child protective services and permanency planning services for families of Potawatomi children. Serving families across the United States, our case managers assisted with reunification efforts and attended 380 court hearings, virtual and in person. We had the ability to provide additional funding support to families in need and prevent crises such as eviction and loss of utilities.
Throughout this public health crisis, we have continued to advocate for Citizen Potawatomi families involved in the child welfare system. We reunified 35 families this year. This means that dozens of CPN children were able to return safely to the homes of their birth families after their parents completed court-ordered services. In some instances, the case goal plan for children is adoption to another family who will keep connections to important people in their lives. We celebrated 10 adoptions with our families.
Foster Care/Adoption Program
The Foster Care/Adoption Program processes adoption paperwork for children and assesses applicants wishing to become a foster or adoptive home. The program constantly needs new foster and adoptive parents for Potawatomi children who have been placed into foster care.
Our team diligently worked to recruit new homes throughout 2020. This was a rather difficult task, as many families across Oklahoma have been impacted by illness and unemployment. Nearly all in-person recruitment events were also suspended. Despite these challenges, six new families opened their home to Citizen Potawatomi children in need. All of our new families currently have placement of CPN children. We provided gift baskets to each family to show our gratitude for opening their home to children during one of the most difficult times in the world. In addition to regularly providing children with car seats, beds and clothing, we also were able to provide diapers and formula that were difficult for foster parents to find on store shelves for a period of time. Our favorite project is sending materials to children to make life books so they can preserve special memories, photographs and other important items. FireLodge Children & Family Services values foster and adoptive parents and is committed to helping them help Citizen Potawatomi children for years to come.
Family Preservation Program
The goal of the Family Preservation Program is to preserve Native American families and sustain an environment of safety and well-being by addressing family issues through a holistic approach. In order to be considered eligible for the program, families must be at risk of removal of children, have an identified need and actively participate in the program.
The family preservation coordinator typically meets with clients in their home or in our office. Case management services and education sessions were modified to virtual contact for a period of time. Clients have been able to utilize telephone calls and video chat programs to receive support from staff. While in-person office visits have currently resumed, clients have been able to continue participating in services virtually to protect their health while not delaying services vital to keeping their families together. We served more than 25 new clients and offered 121 parenting and budgeting classes in the last fiscal year. We also completed 29 home visits and dozens of referrals provided to families for both tribal and community programs.
Adult Protective Services
Adult Protective Services provides vulnerable Citizen Potawatomi adults with protection from abuse, neglect or exploitation as well as offers services. The services help with proper medical care, self-maintenance skills, personal hygiene, adequate food, shelter and protection. We received a grant in January that has greatly enhanced the ability to provide services and needed supplies to at-risk elders.
Our staff completed 12 investigations alleging abuse or neglect of elders. During the course of these investigations, we identified needs to improve the safety and well-being of each elder. We made referrals to many programs, including social services, health care, legal advocacy and financial assistance. We completed 87 home visits; all of them focused on ensuring clients have safe and stable housing. While there are limitations to in-person contact due to the pandemic, such as nursing home facility visits, we still maintained meaningful relationships with elders and have plans for even more specialized contact.
With 2021 approaching, FireLodge Children & Family Services is continuing its commitment to offer safe and supportive services to Native American families in need. Find out more information, visit potawatomi.org/firelodge or call 405-878-4831.