OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma –
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services says each year nearly 300 teenagers age out of the system without being adopted or reunited with their biological families.
But I found one Oklahoma foster family that’s opened their home to the possibilities of changing young lives.
“Kids come into custody for a wide range of reasons,” said Casey White with DHS. “In Oklahoma, we have a lot of substance abuse, domestic violence, neglect. For some of these kids, they’ve not seen what a healthy relationship really looks like.”
However, once they enter Rochelle Sims’ home, it’s clear.
“God gave me a heart that it is easy for me to love others,” she said.
She and her husband Patrick are parents to two biological children, three adopted teenagers and dozens of foster kids.
“At first, I was like ‘oh, I don’t know how I’m going to do this’ and now I’m like, I couldn’t imagine my life any other way,” Rochelle said.
But it didn’t come without struggle. Now 18, Colby was just 12 years old when he was placed with the Sims along with his younger brother Gunner.
“The person that they knew of me was a kid that was always doing drugs and was really mean and hateful and just didn’t love anybody,” said Colby, the Sims’ adopted son.
Colby and Gunner had been placed in 18 different foster homes, mostly separated.
“When you go to a new home you want to have someone there with you that, you know, it’s like your family and then when you don’t, it’s hard,” said Gunner, the Sims’ adopted son.
Even though the Sims adopted the boys, Colby continued to rebel, eventually running away from home.
“They live in survival mode and we have to be okay, be okay to let a little chaos into our lives for a little while,” said Rochelle.
The couple didn’t give up on Colby and sent him to a rehabilitation facility in Missouri.
“Actually it’s been life changing, really and truly,” said Colby. “I have this family that’s just like we can fill that gap you know but I never opened myself up to accept them to fill that gap.”
Now home on weekends and holidays, he realizes what he’s had all along.
“Just to know that they see the love and the passion inside of me is awesome,” he said.
However, there are still hundreds of other kids in Oklahoma looking for that same love. A traveling photo exhibit called the Waiting Child Heart Gallery of Oklahoma shows the faces of the need. The exhibit and online gallery uses professional photographs and biographies of the children to bring awareness and to recruit adoptive families.
“I think a lot of families are just intimidated to bring a stranger into their home,” said White. “These families have the opportunity to be that model for them and to literally change the course of the child’s life.”
Like the Sims have done and for them, the payoff is watching their children thrive. Colby now speaks publicly to counsel other kids while Gunner is active in sports along with his adopted sister Jarius.
“I can’t even tell you the confidence they have in themselves,” said Rochelle. “They still struggle, we struggle, but that’s not the focus, the focus isn’t the struggle, the focus is the success.”
To date, the Sims family has touched the lives of more than 30 kids, including Hannah who has now aged out of the system.
“I’m not in foster care anymore but I still am a part of their family,” said Hannah.
In fact, the kids come back regularly, especially over the holidays.
“Somebody’s always out there for you,” Colby said. “You’re never alone, you know, there’s always somebody rooting for you.”
“Once your eyes are opened to foster care, you can’t close them,” Rochelle said. “I fail a lot but I always have to go back and do what love does and make sure I’m looking out for the best in them.”
“The way Rochelle and Patrick accepted us and really brought us in and gave us something, especially with all the other kids that had come through with us and become friends and family,” said Gunner. “This is my family, this is home.”
Last year, 2,577 children were adopted, which is the highest numbers of adoptions in a single fiscal year since 1998. Foster children who are featured in the Heart Gallery are three times more likely to be adopted.
If you are interested in adopting a child or hosting the exhibit, visit https://oklahomaheartgallery.com/.