OKDHS employee’s passion for service brings HOPE and connection to last a lifetime
OKDHS employees are known to live out acts of service both at work and at home. Our work here rarely ends when we shut our computers for the day, because serving others is not just a job. It is a way of life. In fact, many who work for this agency, which offers help and HOPE to more than 1.25 million children and families each year, will tell you that once you work for OKDHS and see the needs in your community, you can never look back. Serving others becomes your passion and your life’s work, and sometimes can allow you to make supportive connections that last a lifetime.
For Chandra Bradford, Youth Transition Specialist in Oklahoma County, work took a beautiful, but unexpected turn when she was allowed to become an adult guardian for a young woman previously on her caseload.
Anonte came into care as a young child with a host of medical conditions, and has spent most of her 17 years with OKDHS’ amazing partners at The Children’s Center at Bethany. Those who know her best have always said that Anonte lives life through music, and is a buzzing member of Beyoncé’s Beyhive. If “All the Single Ladies” comes on the radio, you had better be ready to jam! However, this affectionate and endearing cuddle-bug had been unable to find a permanent family, a challenge facing many children in OKDHS custody with complex medical conditions, and Bradford was determined to ensure she didn’t leave state custody without a permanent connection.
Through her work under the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids model, Bradford began to reach back out to Anonte’s biological family, including her mother, to see if connections could be re-established. Anonte’s mom was a child herself when she gave birth and felt ill-prepared to give her daughter what she needed to be successful. These factors motivated her to give Anonte a chance at a different life, where she could get all the medical care she needed. Along the way, however, mom became older and found a support system through Bradford and a host of community service providers. She finally gained the confidence and structure to provide a different life for her daughter. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when Anonte’s mom passed away before she could officially reunify with her daughter, and Anonte’s permanency into adulthood was again in jeopardy.
While other relatives were able to support Anonte’s siblings, Anonte still needed a guardian able to devote time to her needs. Bradford decided to look inside herself to see if she could be that permanent connection for the young woman who had so profoundly impacted her heart and life.
“The reason I chose to be Anonte’s guardian was that, while having a conversation with Anonte's mother, she told me I was an angel,” said Bradford. “She said she could tell why her baby felt safe with me and that she was not worried if the ICPC didn't work out because she knew I would look out for her. When I heard of her mother's passing, I knew she was telling me I was the backup plan. I had to do it.”
With the support of Anonte’s relatives, Bradford accepted volunteer guardianship of Anonte on June 22. She will be able to help her maintain connection with her siblings and other biological family, while still ensuring she has a loving local advocate.
“Chandra is the epitome of what people mean when they say someone’s heart is in their work,” said Robin Gibson, Field Administrator for Youth Transition Services. “She is so passionate about each of the young people she works with, as well as the relationships she develops along the way. Chandra told me she learned a great deal from Anonte’s mother, about the work OKDHS does and changes in our practice over the years. I’m beyond proud of her willingness to learn from our biological families, and to commit to honoring Anonte’s mom by becoming guardian.”
The Volunteer Guardianship program through Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) provides guardianship services to adults or youth with Intellectual Disabilities (ID) who receive DDS services. Not all adults with ID require a guardian, but those who do can benefit from the advocacy and decision-making a guardian provides. Guardians follow the orders of the court and receive support from DDS, while ensuring the health and safety of an individual with ID, and providing an opportunity for the individual to live the least restrictive life possible.
Guardians for both adults and youth build positive relationships, advocate and make informed decisions. Decisions made by guardians may be about finances, medical care, living arrangements, employment, and education. A guardian only makes decisions to the extent their ward cannot make their own decisions. The guardianship relationship is designed to fit each person's needs and still allow the person to make as many life decisions as possible.
“Having Chandra step in and become Anonte’s guardian creates a long-term relationship, which is often missing when children age out of child welfare custody,” said Amy Baustert, DDS Deputy Director. “This amazing commitment Chandra has made to Anonte will provide stability and peace of mind for Anonte and her family. Chandra is providing HOPE that will positively impact Anonte’s life. We here at DDS are beyond excited to assist Anonte and Chandra on this journey into adulthood.”
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