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KFOR INQUIRY: Oklahoma DHS abruptly ends relationship with nonprofit providing free service to place children

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – At this time, 7,200 Oklahoma children are in state care.

These children cannot live with their biological parents.

Some may possibly be reunited with a biological parent. Hundreds are available for worship.

Some will grow old because of a system that has failed to find them a forever home.

An Oklahoma-based nonprofit founded to find homes for these children has been told their help is unwanted.

The Oklahoma Heart Gallery is a network of child advocates who maintain a database of photos and videos of children available for adoption.

Several times a year for the past 19 years, photographers have donated their time and resources to take beautiful images of children held by DHS.

According to Oklahoma Heart Gallery (OHG) board chair, Mary Beth Ede, this is a $ 20,000 to $ 30,000 a year business.

Their mission is to connect potential adoptive families with an available child.

“For me, it’s really humanizing for these kids who are in the care of DHS,” Ede said.

Deangelo Coberly, 18, was first presented by the Oklahoma Heart Gallery at the age of 13.

“A lot of these kids. they can’t wait to be on this website for some hope, ”Deangelo recalls.

He had been detained by DHS most of his life.

In 2018, Deangelo was living at the Tulsa Boys Group Home; its 27th foster home.

That same year, the Coberly family found Deangelo on the Oklahoma Heart Gallery website.

“She found his picture and said, ‘Look at him. Look at this kid! ‘ She kept talking about her dimples. Deangelo’s adoptive father, John Coberly, said. “Honestly, without the Heart Gallery, we wouldn’t have found Deangelo. We have gone through so many DHS profiles.

The Heart Gallery has provided this service to DHS for 19 years.

Almost two decades of photos, videos, website maintenance, and daily phone calls from potential adoptive parents.

The founder, Gay Larsen, adopted two teenagers from DHS years ago.

The children of Oklahoma need a home.

Larsen and members of the Oklahoma Heart Gallery board of directors received a letter from DHS earlier this year, informing them that DHS would not “renew” the relationship.

“After all this time and money and all this work that we have done, it was mind blowing,” said Larsen.

The notification from DHS Child Protection Services provided little explanation.

According to the letter, Director Deborah Shropshire wrote: “Over the past few years our understanding and approach to fostering foster care has evolved… Our work with the Oklahoma Heart Gallery just doesn’t align as well as it does. the past. , and for this reason, I want to inform you that we will not be renewing the Memorandum of Understanding between the Oklahoma Human Services and the Oklahoma Heart Gallery. Additionally, the effort to develop a system for photographing children in need of foster care will not be a strategy that we are going to advance further.

“The tone was a bit rude and contemptuous,” Ede said. “Just for someone to say, ‘Oh. Thank you. We don’t need you. It really is. It was a punch in the guts.

Keep in mind that this was a free service for finding homes for children.

Every expense was paid for by the Oklahoma Heart Gallery, including a brand new custom website portal created by the Oklahoma Heart Gallery at the request of DHS.

Today, the Heart Gallery and DHS are embroiled in a legal battle over who owns the rights to the images and videos produced by OHG volunteers.

The database is made up of thousands of images produced over 19 years of effort to help.

“We would have appreciated at least a minimum of respect for the time, effort, energy and money we have put into it over the years. It’s no small effort, ”Ede said.

KFOR has requested an interview with DHS. We asked for a legitimate reason why the state would refuse free assistance in finding homes for the children.

The agency offered this vague statement:

“We are eternally grateful to the organizations and volunteers who use their time and talent to reach out to people who improve the lives of children and families. OK-DHS aims to reduce or eliminate the amount of trauma suffered by children and youth, to heal and strengthen families and communities and to create alternative supports for the safety and well-being of children. . We continue to refine and evolve our strategies, approach and partnerships to achieve this goal based on evidence-based best practices. “

News 4 also requested twelve months of internal communications between DHS administrators and adoption services in Oklahoma. We were hoping to find out more about what was wrong with DHS and the Oklahoma Heart Gallery.

Ali Meyer of KFOR made the request in July, and we have been waiting three months for DHS to comply with the Open Records Act and release these public documents.

Regarding the request, a DHS spokesperson emailed this update in September:

“We are processing your request under the Open Records Act. Due to the volume of your request, we anticipate that the response will likely take months, as to date it has returned over 50,000 pages for review. We expect there will be even more records at the end of our search. As many of our records are confidential under state law, we will need to review all of these records for possible drafting before sharing them with your station. We intend to respond in a reasonable manner and appreciate your patience.


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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.