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Children at risk gain Okla. Baptist advocates

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Children at risk and families in trouble will be the focus of a new program developed by Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children.
Baptist Advocates for Children will seek to create a network of child-care advocates across Oklahoma to deal with the needs and safety of children as well as giving aid to parenting and strengthening existing families.
The idea for the program came from OBHC President Tony Kennedy and Steve Childers, OBHC public relations coordinator, as they talked about the needs of children across the state.
“We were looking for some way to get the wealth of knowledge we have as an organization out to people in the churches,” said Kennedy, who serves on the Oklahoma Commission for Children and Youth.
OBHC deals with hurting children out of difficult situations every day, he said. “We’re not afraid when children act ugly or they come out of real tough stuff, because we’ve been through it and we don’t wring our hands and run away.”
Kennedy gave an example of a family moving in next door to a church; the kids are dirty, don’t have their needs met, are being abused, and no one knows who to call or where to start to deal with the situation.
“At Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children, we’re dealing with those situations on a weekly basis,” he noted. “Our problem has been how to get that information from us out to people in the local church.”
OBHC is looking for at least one person in each church in the state to commit to training to be a child advocate under the Baptist Advocates for Children, to be headed by Darlene Koch, retired children’s/preschool ministries specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“Rather than putting out fires, we want to be there ahead of the problem,” Koch said. “We want to prevent child abuse; catch at-risk families before abuse begins. We want to help families in trouble financially or healthwise who don’t know where to turn.”
Koch said OBHC currently is trying to network with agencies which can provide resources for families in trouble. That would include the Department of Human Services, Mental Health Department, State Health Department, Education Department, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Juvenile Justice System, Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth and the Oklahoma Association of Children’s Institutions and Agencies.
Koch stressed OBHC will train advocates to be aware of all the services available, both public and private. She added OBHC is doing a mailout to all state organizations that deal with children and families to let them know what the Baptist organization is doing.
Regional awareness training meetings are scheduled in March and April to enlist volunteers and begin training the advocates.
Koch said the training will include learning all the organizations advocates can turn to for help.
Kennedy added the training will also include how to protect churches from abusive people trying to get into the church organizations to take advantage of kids.
Koch stressed the only requirements for advocates are that they love children, have time, be alert and observant and know what’s going on in their church families.
“The thinking is Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children provides a great place to care for abandoned children, but we need to also help the families of children in our homes as well as those families out there who have no one to turn to,” Koch said. “I’m grateful that we as Southern Baptists in Oklahoma have the ability to accomplish this wonderful vision Tony has.”
Koch, who worked with children’s workers at the state level for 26 years, said OBHC is trying to do more than put a Band-Aid on a situation.
“We’re trying to get to the root of the need,” she said. “We’re actually doing something, not just talking about it.”

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  • Dana Williamson