By Mary Belle Zook, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Public Information Department
November is National Adoption Month, and many Potawatomi and Native American children within the foster care system need a safe, stable home. While oftentimes the goal is to work with parents and guardians to reunite with their children, there are cases where finding a permanent, loving family becomes necessary.
“Most of the time when children are adopted in foster care, it’s their foster parents who adopt them,” explained Kendra Lowden, Citizen Potawatomi Nation FireLodge Children & Family Services foster care and adoption manager.
“We do have children that need (to be) adopted that don’t have a foster home that we’re able to find for them or one of our foster homes are not able to take them.”
Having a one-on-one conversation with CPN Indian Child Welfare staff can better acquaint potential foster or adoptive parents with the process.
“For anyone interested in fostering or adopting, the best thing to do is make a phone call that way we can have a conversation about the requirements and expectations for foster and adoptive families,” she said.
Most of the time, parents do not voluntarily place children into foster care, and in most cases, parents actively work to regain placement of their children.
“Since most of the children who are adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents, people interested in adoption should consider that when applying,” Lowden said.
Private adoption can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but going through the Nation removes almost all adoption-related fees.
“There are essentially no costs related to adopting through foster care. Many times, adoption attorney fees can be covered for foster parents,” she said.
“The only potential fee someone may have to pay is a copay for a medical exam, but other than that, it’s cost-free.”
However, FireLodge Children & Family Services’ most dire need is for foster parents who are also willing to adopt.
“We sometimes have cases where a placement disrupts for various reasons, and a Potawatomi child needs to be placed into one of our homes for adoption,” Lowden said. “It’s not necessarily every day we have a child that we could place in an adoption-only home, but it is a possibility.”
Across Oklahoma, there are almost 7,500 children in foster care, and more than 3,500 of them are Native American.
“We have a lot of children that are placed in non-Native homes,” Lowden explained. “Many times, it’s due to where they’re located.”
The CPN FireLodge Children & Family Services strives to find placements near children’s families so that visitations are easier.
“We wouldn’t want to have a child in a car for so many hours in a day or every week,” she said.
But the demand for Potawatomi foster families across the state is still high.
“Most of our homes already have placements,” Lowden said. “We definitely need more. Every time we get involved in a case, we do everything we can to make sure the children are placed with family — if not with family, then with one of our Tribal homes. … We have to think long-term and have a broader view to ensure we have an ongoing pool of homes who are available to provide care for Potawatomi children.”
FireLodge Children & Family Services assigns a caseworker to every child placed in foster care and is available to support foster and adoptive families through each step of the process.
“Our caseworkers make monthly contact with the foster parent, ensure that everything is going great, help with any issues that pop up, questions about medical appointments, counseling, visitation — they’re there to guide the foster parent,” she said.
For CPN members living outside of Oklahoma, Lowden recommends reaching out to their local state agency that oversees foster care. If they live near other Native Nations, contacting the tribes themselves could present opportunities to assist other Native American children.