FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — This year, the Fond du Lac County department of social services placed 56 children in foster care, on track to match last year's total of 90. But the county faces a problem; there's a shortage of homes to take these children.
"We have reached a crisis if you will, about not having available slots for children that might be coming into care," social work supervisor Kay Metty-Reinhard said. "And we really just don't have places to put children at this point in time."
The county has 75 foster homes, but many of those are at their capacity for children.
This only further complicates an issue affecting one of the most vulnerable populations.
"Every child that comes into foster care is a victim of trauma, because separating from your parent or caregiver is a form of trauma, on top of whatever might have been going on in that home that led to the removal from that home," Metty-Reinhard said.
Sometimes, in emergency situations, homes take in additional foster children. Paula Klapperich said her home is licensed for two foster children but has taken on more when necessary.
"In an emergency situation they're able to grant a bigger license, so to speak," Klapperich said. "At one point earlier this summer, we had 11 total kids in our house between the foster kids and our own kids. And that was a bit chaotic, interesting, but chaotic."
Klapperich has been a foster parent for six years. During that time, her family has fostered 12 children long-term and several more for shorter periods of time. She said she's noticed the issue the county is facing.
"There's definitely a shortage, and it's unfortunate because there's so much need out there," Klapperich said.
But being a foster parent is not easy, Metty-Reinhardt said.
"It would be really easy for me to say that 'oh, anybody can foster and it's just a really very easy thing to do.'" Metty-Reinhard said. "To give everything in your life to a child that isn't your own, can sometimes be very difficult. And it takes a very special person to give a part of their life to someone else's child, and to help them through some of the toughest days of their lives."
Klapperich said it can be challenging to deal with the laws involved in fostering, trauma responses in children and not knowing what the kids' futures will hold.
"I can't control the future," Klapperich said. "I can only control right now, today, and that while we have the kids in our home that we're able to love on them and give them the best possible life."
Klapperich said she treats her foster kids like they're her own children.
"I give lots of reassurance that it's going to be okay, and that they're going to be okay, and I'm not going anywhere," Klapperich said.
And despite challenges, she said the experience is worth it and can be incredibly rewarding.
"I mean, it's not all roses, but there's definitely that part of it also, just to be able to be a part of a child's life that wouldn't otherwise have a chance and just know that you made a difference," Klapperich said.
Metty-Reinhard said the department of social services contracts with one home to be an "emergency receiving home," and is looking for a second. These homes take in kids 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and keep them until they can find more permanent housing.
To address the shortage, the department is ramping up its recruitment efforts. It established a Facebook page and is hosting events for interested parents, including a fall festival on Oct. 15.
"The process can be rather lengthy, but what I generally tell people is that they shouldn't really worry about what all the things are that they're going to have to complete because we do the majority of work for that," Metty-Reinhard said. "They just have to really be thinking about is fostering something that's going to work for them. Is it something that's going to work with their current family structure? And do they have a heart for it?"
For people interested in becoming a foster parent, Metty-Reinhard suggested calling the department of social services at 920-929-7114 or visiting their website.