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County agencies stand ready to aid foster families

Foster parenting, like any parenting, can be challenging.

And when a child comes into a home with issues related to trauma, abuse or educational delays, those challenges become exponential.

For more than 40 years, Kenosha Human Development Services has worked with foster families to overcome challenges ranging from disabilities to bad behavior.

Through its specialized training and treatment-oriented foster homes, KHDS creates appropriate homes for all children, especially those with behavioral or physical needs.

KHDS guides parents in achieving the state-mandated licensing to take on special cases.

It also offers foster parents ongoing education, around-the-clock consultants and a support group.

“While most foster parents are trained and licensed by the Division of Children and Family Services, the state sanctions KHDS’ training because we offer a different model of care,” said Angela Martin, KHDS clinical director.

Teaching Family Model

The primary tool in the KHDS toolbox has been the Teaching Family Model, a treatment approach that models rationale, motivation and life consequences, Martin said.

Katie Meyer, KDHS licensing specialist, points out that the difference between KHDS and DCFS is that with the former foster parent training is done before a child is placed in a home as part of the licensing process.

“Instead of building a relationship with a child and then teaching expectations, we start with the expectations,” Martin said.

A lifesaver

For foster parents David and Chris Fricke, KHDS staff and training resources has been a lifesaver.

The Frickes came to KHDS for extra training with a long-term goal of adopting an older child.

“We wanted the training because we realized that adopting an older child might require extra (skills),” Dave said.

Early on in their foster parenting two years ago, the Frickes were particularly challenged by the extreme behaviors of a child placed in their care.

The boy, who was 7 at the time, was emotionally erratic, Dave said.

“It would be, ‘I love you. I hate you,’” Dave said. “Our home was like a trauma-level 3 home.”

The Frickes contacted KHDS, and the next day staff provided them with advice and encouragement. They helped the Frickes work with the boy, who they learned had “radical attachment disorder.”

“They told us, ‘There’s a great kid in there; he just needs structure, discipline and love to bring him out,’” Dave said.

“A year later, he was a completely different child,” Dave said.

Seven foster children

The couple currently have two of their own girls, ages 16 and 17, and two foster children, a boy, 8, and a girl, 13. They also hope to adopt a son.

Over the past two years they’ve had seven foster children, sometimes as many as four at once.

“Sometimes a diagnosis comes with a child, and sometimes foster parents find out by taking them to appointments,” Dave said.

“Other times, it’s because a new child cannot mix with other children already in the home,” added Chris.

“At the beginning of a placement sometimes an agency, or even the parents, don’t know how severe a behavior is,” Dave said. “The response can be, ‘Oh my god, we’re not trained!’”

Being proactive

Meyer noted that the programs offered by KHDS are effective because they draw on several schools of behavioral and developmental theory.

Another important component of the training is role playing. “We like to put parents in situations before they happen,” Martin said.

“Foster parents get a more clinical understanding (of problems), which increases empathy,” Martin said.

On the back of their success, the Frickes are now working with other foster parents in need.

“KHDS training resources are phenomenal,” Dave said.