Wisconsin has over 4,200 licensed foster homes.
According to Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Deputy Communications Director Gina Paige, the total number of foster beds statewide is close to 9,800.
“We do not currently have a situation where there are not enough available foster parents with which to place children,” Paige said answering a question posed by the Milton Courier in an email. “However, some areas of the state are experiencing more challenges in finding foster parents at all training levels and DCF continues to actively work with partners to identify and train parents who are willing to offer care to children in need of a temporary, loving environment to call home.”
Rick and Peggy Cadd of Milton, foster parents for nearly 40 years, have served as a resource for other foster parents. Peggy also has taught foster care classes.
“The most important thing when you take a child into your home is to be flexible – and patient,” she said.
Foster parents face a lot of scrutiny, she said.
“Biological parents will complain about how you parent,” she said, “and social workers will come in and out of your home.”
As a foster parent, Rick said, “You might think of yourself as a savior or someone who saves children. They don’t think like that.”
Their oldest daughter, after she was adopted, would tell Peggy, “You’re not my real mom.”
“There’s a lot of ‘knives’ they throw at you,” she said.
Peggy’s reply was: “I’m really here. I really did your laundry. I’m really going to drive you to school.”
No matter what she said, the comment still hurt. “You can’t personalize it,” she said.
“You think your home is so much better than what they had,” Rick said. “It’s different to them. In their eyes, you’re ripping them out of their world.”
“You’re ripping them out of everything that is their norm,” Peggy said. “A house like this where everything’s put away, there’s not guns laying around or there’s not garbage on the floor – this is strange to them. They don’t know how to deal with that.”
The Cadds previously did chores on Saturday. Peggy gave one teen a bucket of supplies to clean the bathroom. Later she found the girl sitting on the floor crying because she didn’t know how.
“Don’t be judgmental,” Peggy said. “And don’t forget they love their parents. Don’t criticize their parents. I don’t care if they are a drug dealer or they just killed somebody. Even in bad situations there’s something that parent did right for that child.”
Rick said they always tried to have empathy for the biological parents.
Some of the biological parents themselves went through horrible things as kids, Peggy said.
“The bottom line is we all just need somebody that’s going to love us unconditionally,” she said. “The path to healing that I’ve seen for my kids is really loving them for who they are, then working on the behaviors. We all have things we can work on every day. A child can’t grow. A child can’t get better if they don’t know they’re unconditionally loved.”
“We look at the positives instead of looking at the problems,” she said.
In addition to being part of the family, the Cadds said there are three things children should do when they’re at home:
• Have a job. (Five of their children worked at Culver’s.)
• Be in a sport or activity.
• Play an instrument (2 years minimum).
Because the money they earned had to go in the bank, four of the Cadd children paid for their cars in cash at the age of 17 or 18.
Most people should never think about having a dozen kids at home, Peggy said, “because you have to learn how to let go.”
She points to the patio door looking outside where they have baseball diamond complete with a backstop and equipment shed and even a portable toilet. If she wanted to, she could focus not on the fun all the fun they have outside, but on the window.
“It’s gross,” she said. “It’s got fingerprints and pawprints all over.”
Fostering has helped Peggy focus on reality.
When she taught foster parent training classes and did training for the state, she would give three volunteers a towel and ask them to fold it. They would fold the towel into a square or roll it up, then Peggy would say, “The trifold is the perfect and only way to fold it because that’s the right way.”
Then she’d ask: “Is it the right way, wrong way or is it different?”
She uses another example: If a parent stays up with a young child until 3 a.m. then sleeps until noon, that’s just different.
“I think that’s where we get into a lot of cultural clashes: We think our way is the right way,” she said.
Foster parents come up with all kinds of different strategies.
When Peggy had to go to the grocery store with a dozen or so children including babies in a stroller and a child in a wheelchair, she had to come up with something. And she did: “I said, ‘If everybody’s really good in the store, we’re all having ice cream sundaes for lunch. They never said a peep.”