By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The newly launched Oklahoma’s Kids Belong, a non-profit organization helping children in the foster care system, has appointed Edmond resident Scott Werner as its inaugural president. Oklahoma’s Kids Belong will build on the work that America’s Kids Belong (AKB) began in 2015 in Oklahoma.
Founded in 2005 by Colorado Pastor Brian Mavis and his wife Julie, AKB unites faith, government, business and creative communities in states to solve the foster care and adoption crisis in the U.S.
A native Oklahoman, Werner is the owner of My Small Wonders Child Development Center in Edmond, and other Oklahoma real estate investment and management companies.
He has served as executive director of children’s ministries at Life Church and as the director of U.S. Church Relations for Compassion International, the world’s leading authority in holistic child development through sponsorship.
“There has never been a day in Oklahoma’s recorded history where a child has not been waiting for a foster family or adopted family,” said Werner. “I am committed to being a part of changing who waits in our state and beyond.”
In November 2015, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin launched the “Oklahoma Fosters” campaign, encouraging the entire state to help with the overwhelming need for foster and adoptive families.
Joining with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Gov. Fallin reached out to the populace through the Oklahoma Fosters initiative to help the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) recruit more than 1,000 new, safe, loving foster families by the end of June 2016.
The initiative was a collaborative effort between the Governor’s office, DHS and essential community partners like the 111 Project, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Count Me in for Kids, private providers, and many other organizations.
These efforts have resulted in the certification of more than 1,080 new families during the year, surpassing the initial goal.
“When America’s Kids Belong met with us and they described their vision of partnering the Department of Human Services and Child Welfare to the different sectors in our state, I thought it was an answer to prayer,” said Tricia Howell, Deputy Director of Foster Care and Adoption for Child Welfare Services.
“We have seen the results of it already. It is a key factor that helps us develop the foster families and adoptive families that we need for our Oklahoma children,” Howell added.
America’s Kids Belong is based on successful models in Colorado, where a statewide movement resulted in the reduction of waiting children from 880 to 200 and in Virginia, where 1,041 children were matched with permanent families in 2013.
“Oklahoma has so many amazing organizations and residents that work to make their state better,” said Janet Kelly, co-founder of America’s Kids Belong. “We knew that we wanted to bring a sustainable presence to Oklahoma, especially when the Oklahoma Fosters initiative began.
“We have seen great results with the partnerships, and now with the addition of Scott Werner, we have a deep commitment to bring awareness of the need for adoptive and foster families,” Kelly said.
Oklahoma’s Kids Belong (OKB) works to ensure that every child is in a loving home by recruiting more foster and adoptive families. The group also engages in wrap-around support for at-risk, foster and adoptive families along the way.
As reported by Gina Brewer of OKC FOX News, the organization also records I Belong videos to give foster children “a face and a voice.” The videos are used as recruitment tools to help foster kids get more visibility to find forever families.
“We are currently in an adoption crisis,” Werner said. “We are currently 48th out of the 50 states as to how we’re doing in foster care. But the good thing is. there’s hope. There are things we can do to raise awareness for Oklahomans to know what the true situation is and how to really make a difference.”
“Today in Oklahoma there are 550 kids that are called legally free, which means their parents have given up all parental rights and no one is advocating on their behalf to become their family,” Werner said. “We are making videos of each one of those kids so that we can get their story out. Those videos will show up at HeartGalleryofOklahoma.com.”
“The truth of the matter is it takes all of us to help out our kids, but we’re Oklahomans, we can do this,” he said.
For more information, visit oklahomaskidsbelong.org.