GREEN BAY (NBC26) — Green Bay resident Rebecca Vanlanen has been a foster parent for almost 10 years.
"I want to say I've had anywhere from 275 to 350 kids," Vanlanen said. "We kind of lost count after awhile."
Her foster home is what is known as a receiving home. When a child is removed from their home and there isn't a parent or suitable family available, receiving homes will temporarily take in a child until they can stay with a relative or find a long-term foster home.
Vanlanen is available 24/7 to receive children day or night and generally takes them in for up to 60 days.
"These kids come from not great situations. They're kind of lost a little bit and they just want some love and care," Vanlanen said. "Sometimes it's just a hot meal is what they're really looking for and somebody to play with, somebody to listen to them talk and make sure their basic needs are met."
Brown County is in need of foster homes now more than ever. There are currently 244 children in Brown County foster homes and out of home care.
"Our foster homes are full," said Brown County foster care recruiter Heather LaFave. "Most of our licensed foster homes don't have any openings and if they do it's maybe for one."
The shortage of foster parents is a problem happening across Wisconsin.
“At any given time we have about 7,000 children in foster care in Wisconsin," said Karey Endthoff, the permanency recruitment specialist at Children's Wisconsin. "Once you move out of the bigger cities like Milwaukee we tend to have less people willing to be foster parents.”
When there aren't enough foster homes available, LaFave says children are often placed in treatment-level homes. According to the Brown County website, seven to 10 children are currently placed in residential treatment centers because of the shortage of foster homes. The website states that placement in a treatment center also costs taxpayers ten times as much as care in a foster home - sometimes in excess of $20,000 per month.
"Generally treatment level homes are meant to take children that are higher needs either behaviorally, emotionally or physically," LaFave said. "But what we're finding right now due to a lack of foster homes with availability is we're having to make referrals to private agencies with treatment-level homes when the children don't even have that level of need."
LaFave says older children, those 11-years-old and up, will often be sent to a group home when there are no foster homes available. In a worst case scenario, children may even have to be moved outside the county.
It's why foster homes like Vanlanen's are critically important and why she's continued to be a foster parent all these years.
"The kids kind of keep me going. Some of the kids I still keep in touch with over the years and I've seen them grow and see where they're going," Vanlanen said. "If you have a heart and it's big enough to take on a child, even if it's just one, it's that one child's life that you'll change."
Those interested in becoming a foster parent can visit the Brown County website to learn more.