By Angel Ellis/Reporter
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — MCN is searching for qualified foster families who can help take care of Indigenous children in an effort to bolster services for the MCN Children and Family Services after the SCOTUS decision that reaffirmed the MCN Reservation Boundaries. Mvskoke citizen and current foster parent Ann Townsend Edwards says the process is not as intimidating as most people might think.
Recent legislation has passed through the tribes National Council that MCN Director of Children and Family Services Kimmie Wind Hummingbird says will help the department provide stable homes for foster children.
For Townsend Edwards, just wanting to help was not enough.
“My family instilled in me to have a servant heart,” Townsend Edwards said. “But they also taught me to go beyond that if you can help, you have to do something.”
She first became a foster family when one of her own family members was in need. She said she was not sure what would pan out but that she immediately said yes.
“That is something we are taught, to help,” Townsend Edwards said. “It turned out to be a very good thing for my son as well.”
“He was an only child and it was so good to have this family environment because he had not had that connection with a brother or sister.”
She noticed how much they played together and gave her family extra fulfillment.
“I didn’t ask my son what he thought in the beginning, but I do recommend talking with biological children about the decision because it does have an affect on them as well,” Townsend Edwards said.
One of the first myths she wanted to dispel for those considering becoming a tribal foster family is that the process is not that difficult. For Townsend Edwards, who is a single parent, there was never a question as to whether she could do this.
“People come in and help with everything from taking the kids for visitations, doctor’s appointments, and even child care,” Townsend Edwards said. “Foster children’s childcare is always taken care of.”
“Case workers help make those arrangements. You aren’t flying by the seat of your pants when caring for a foster child.”
Townsend Edwards says that employees are always great about giving potential families plenty of information prior to the application process. She said that they are good about helping a person qualify.
“There is a background check, and it is a thorough check,” Townsend Edwards said. “But if you think about it, you are being entrusted with the care of these children and they want to make sure they are safe.”
She said a lot of preparation is focused on safety. Things like smoke detectors and keeping household cleaners out of reach of children, having plug covers or restricting access to a pool is important.
Townsend Edwards said it can be difficult because there really is an emotional attachment. She experienced it when she had her first two children for about a year.
“You get so use to doing things for them and with them and having them there and when they left the home seemed so quiet,” Townsend Edwards said. “I had to get out of the house to distract us.”
But one of the things that really stayed on her mind was that this is something we do for the parents too. She said that the time can be determined by how the parents progress and by the court system.
“I think it’s deeper than just caring for a child its about helping a whole family,” Townsend Edwards said.
She like many foster parents at times need a break to herself, or time to attend a funeral. For those situations respite care is available. Foster parents can be temporary for a week or a weekend, to give other full-time families a break.
“You can even just be an emergency placement, who can be the place a child stays until a fulltime parent is found,” Townsend Edwards said.
Townsend Edwards took a break after her first year of being a foster parent. She needed the time to process whether or not she wanted to continue with fostering children.
“One of the things that really solidified the decision to continue was being approached by someone who confided in me that they were a foster child at one time,” Townsend Edwards said. “She told me that she really felt that she would not be where she was today without having that foster family to care for her, and she’s an attorney now.”
“She told me the thought of not having foster homes where our children can go, live and be taught the culture, is very scary to her because there is the possibility that those children might never come back to our tribe.”
Townsend Edwards said she worries for the older children when they try to come back to the tribe and feel disconnected and do not know how to fit in.
“I’ve seen these shows where these teenagers are aging out of the system and don’t have a place to call home around the holidays,” Townsend Edwards said. “It re-lit a fire and I wanted to do something, even if it is by helping one child at a time.”
She felt that foster homes probably have love for these children but having a tribal family who is connected sets them up for better skills to fit into their own communities.
“I feel like taking care of children is part of cultural preservation, but nobody can take care of our children like we can,” Townsend Edwards said. “The best reason to become a foster family is because non tribal homes cannot give our children their clan family, and without that clan family they can become separated and are left hanging out there.”
“I don’t want any child to ever feel that.”