Fostering kindness in a system that is overwhelmed

My husband and I have been foster parents for the past 20 months.

That’s an awkward sentence and one we rarely utter due to confidentiality concerns and the fact that it generally inspires some sort of effusive and unearned compliment that makes us both uncomfortable.

We have met plenty of amazing people — genuine heroes — in the alarmingly overburdened Outagamie County Foster Care program and we are thankful for them every day. 

We rely on an incredible team of social workers, who do more with the 24 hours a day they’re given than almost any people I know. We count on our young charges’ therapists, CASA volunteers, barbers, pastors, coaches, teachers and the Appleton Boys and Girls Club. 

All of them offer consistent and uncompromising support to the young people in our home and in their community.

We have unbelievably kind neighbors and friends; a photographer who voluntarily shot and edited an entire excellent senior portrait series; a dentist who recently treated our youngest’s teeth, including a full panel of X Rays and two follow-up appointments for fillings and sealants, all pro bono; a friend who passes along all her son’s barely worn clothes and boots; a family who thinks of one of ours as their own; neighbors who open their back door whenever we knock and let us come in and play with their adorable dogs; a friend at EAA who set up an amazing flight experience for both boys; a boss who understands that emergencies happen.

You need only dip into the world of Foster Care to see how empathetic and good-hearted people can be.

But, there is a crisis in Outagamie County, which is why yard signs recruiting foster families are popping up all over the place.

The numbers are quite alarming. 

Here in Outagamie County alone, the number of children in non-relative foster care has increased by 178% in just four years, while the total number of non-relative care foster homes has increased by 16%.

The Outagamie County Foster Care program, much like programs all over the country, needs help.

There are plenty of ways to pitch in.

  • Your voice matters. The system is currently overwhelmed. Social workers that should be handling caseloads of 10 children or less are managing twice that. We need more funds directed toward child welfare to support an increase in intake workers, case managers, supervisors, home consultants, family find coordinators, human services specialists, etc. Every time I see a yard sign recruiting foster homes, I think of the extensive team of social workers each home will need to function. The money we invest in these children now to help them become happy, well-adjusted, productive adults will pay off down the road. Let your legislators know you support more funding for child welfare.
  • The CASA program is always looking for volunteers. These Court Appointed Special Advocates meet once a week with a child and advocate for them in the court to give a judge a clearer picture of what’s going on in that child’s life. If you don’t have time to volunteer but you still want to support the program, you might consider making a monetary donation.
  • The foster care program needs homes for permanent placements, respite, or emergency placements. I would recommend reading up on trauma informed therapy before you decide to jump in  (mostly because I wish I would have). For more information about becoming a foster parent in Outagamie of Calumet County, you can click here. I also would be glad to speak with you if you are considering becoming a foster parent and have specific questions or concerns.

Lastly, I would like to thank every single person for every single gesture of kindness they have offered us and our boys. It really is overwhelming how generous people can be. (As I am writing this, I am responding to emails from a teacher (on a Saturday night!) and a social worker (on a Saturday morning!) and I want to say again that, while the system is undeniably overburdened, our children are in such good hands with our teachers and social workers. We’re all very lucky to live here.

I took this photo in the early days of our Foster Care journey, when I sensed our road would be winding. It has been all of that and more, but we’ve learned exponentially and mostly what we’ve learn is that even winding trails move forward. One step at a time.