Treatment foster care homes for African-American children are in great need. In Wisconsin, African Americans account for about 6 percent of the population but they constitute 37 percent of children in foster care.
More than 75 percent of children placed in what are called treatment foster homes through St. Aemilian-Lakeside, a social services agency at 89th and Capitol, are black.
“Our goal is to keep the children in their own community, to keep the school connections, the cultural connections and the religious connections,” said Kristine Kuehlmann, foster care supervisor at St. Aemilian-Lakeside. “Research shows this creates permanence and stability.”
Treatment foster children have significant emotional and behavioral challenges, largely the result of abuse and neglect. Many have difficulty with attachment.
“Not everyone is cut out to deal with children with these kinds of challenges,” Kuehlmann said. “It requires more than just love and a roof over their heads. These kids need someone to be there during the lows as well as the highs.”
To ensure that competence, St. Aemilian-Lakeside provides 36 hours of training before a treatment foster parent can become licensed.
After that, they get weekly support and training in the home as well as ongoing services at the agency or in partnership with other agencies in the community.
Monthly support groups are offered, sometimes on topics, sometimes just to give the treatment foster parents a chance to share their experiences.
“The treatment foster parents are the ones who make the impressions, bring change into the child’s life, so we really work on improving the parents’ skills,” Kuehlmann said.
Among things the treatment foster parents learn are understanding how past trauma affects children’s current behavior and how to work with the children to achieve success.
“Without that relationship, nothing else matters,” Kuehlmann said. “These parents are the golden resource; they are the major agents of change.”
St. Aemilian-Lakeside also offers respite care when caregivers need a break, 24-hour crisis coverage, financial compensation, and insurance for the children through Title 19. Treatment foster parents can be single, partnered or married, employed outside the home and have children of their own at home.
Nancy Brooks-Lewis and Jesse Lewis, a Brown Deer couple who fostered four treatment foster care children through St. Aemilian-Lakeside since 2002 and ultimately adopted them, said it was most challenging and rewarding thing they have ever done.
“These children really are a blessing,” Lewis said. “They bring things out you didn’t know was in you.”
The Lewises were one of four families in the state to receive a 2010 Governor’s Outstanding Adoptive Parent Award. They adopted the children in mid-life, after raising three kids of their own.
The children include Jess, who was adopted in 2004 and is now 17; Justin, adopted in ‘05, now 14; Sarah, adopted in ‘08, now 10, and Jessica, adopted last August, who is 8.
The family kept all their children in their home and in their hearts on a permanent basis for a reason Lewis says is simple.
“Once you’re in my life, there is no out. I always considered them mine, and I like things simple!”
For more information on treatment foster care through St. Aemilian-Lakeside, call 414-465-5700 or visit www.st-al.org.