More kids in foster care need more foster parents

APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - Like the public service announcement says, "When you don't have a safe place to go home to, nothing in your world seems right."

Every year, more children face the reality that nothing in their world seems right because of circumstances they can't understand or control.

It's why Action 2 News is joining the statewide effort to recruit foster parents.

It's cookies galore at the Needham house in Appleton as they prepare for another busy night of activities with their kids, ages 12, 10 and 6, and their current foster child, age 2.

"We love seeing her grow and develop," Leah Needham says.

"It doesn't have to be this massive change. You can bring a child in and they can grow with your family," Kyle Needham says.

For the past two years, Leah and Kyle Needham have been taking care of a little girl placed into the foster care system at birth.

"It can be intimidating thinking about foster care, what kind of changes it's going to be, and certainly it is a change, but at the same time you don't have to change your lifestyle," says Kyle.

"I think we had fears about what these kids have been through, what they see and what they need, but overall they are normal kids who need love and nurture and safety," adds Leah.

Those needs have increased for hundreds of children over the past few years here in Wisconsin.

"As of March of 2018, we are around 8,000 children statewide. That is about a 10-year high," Oriana Carey, CEO of the Coalition for Children, Youth and Families, tells us.

Outagamie County is seeing similar increases.

"We had a sharper increase in the past two years," Jennifer Sailer, the county's foster care supervisor, says.

In April 2015, there were 104 children placed in foster care. This April they numbered over 200.

"What we are seeing both in the state of Wisconsin and nationally is pieces of that trend being connected to parental substance abuse," says Carey.

Statistics show between 2015 and 2016, the number of children removed from homes due to substance abuse increased 32 percent statewide.

"That definitely is something that is impacting Outagamie County," Sailer says.

"There's times you find that (drug) paraphernalia throughout the house, accessible to children. That becomes a safety concern," she adds.

Sailer says drug abuse isn't the only reason for the increased number of kids in the foster care system.

"We have a lot of larger sibling groups as well, so that impacts numbers," she notes, "and we're in huge need of families who can take siblings so they can stay together."

The Coalition for Children, Youth and Families says the need for foster families in suburban and rural areas is up almost 20 percent in the last 10 years.

Carey says, "I think people learn about the flexibility within themselves, and they learn that love is not finite, that they can give more."

Which is an idea the Needham's embrace.

"We do have a full house, we are outnumbered, so the more the merrier," Leah says.

So for the Needham kids, it's just another day at home.

But for the parents, the experience is teaching their kids something that can't be measured: understanding and acceptance.

"They have shown great empathy, and they have a deeper appreciation for what they have and what we can offer, and they have a better cultural understanding of what the community needs, how to step up and play your part and how to give back," says Leah.

Kyle adds, "I think it's something they will carry with them throughout this life, that there's more to this world than our little family here. It's a big world out there, and they are seeing more of it through this process, which I think is helping them as citizens that they are going to become."

The last time the coalition did a statewide foster care recruitment campaign, organizers say they saw a 475 percent increase in people downloading information about becoming a foster parent. They're hoping for that same success this time around.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month.

Thursday, May 3, non-profit Foundations Health & Wholeness hosts "Foster Care: Debunking the Myths" in Green Bay at 1061 W. Mason St. starts with refreshments at 6 p.m. The seminar starts at 6:30, followed by a tour of their facility and more refreshments. Learn more about the organization at FoundationsGB.org.

The third Thursday of every month -- that's May 17 this month -- Outagamie and Calumet counties hold question-and-answer sessions for potential foster care and respite care parents at 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. at the Outagamie County Health and Human Services Building, 401 S. Elm St., Appleton. Click here to learn more about the sessions or contact the foster care coordinator at (920) 832-5161 or email hhsfoster@outagamie.org.

On Wednesday, May 23, the Wisconsin Youth Advisory Council is sponsoring the 2nd annual "Hands Around the Capitol" event at the state capitol in Madison, starting at 10:30 a.m. For more information, email Tina Czappa.

The Coalition for Children, Youth and Families is sponsoring the "Turn A Life Around" campaign to find foster parents and adoptive families. Start at FosterParentsRock.org. You can also call (414) 475-1246 or email info@coalitionforcyf with questions and to get more information.