The number of children in Wisconsin foster care is staggering. Over 7,400 kids are in out-of-home care. More and more children are entering the foster system with significant trauma which requires parents to meet more stringent requirements to care for the kids appropriately. Treatment foster care addresses the underlying trauma and the behaviors and emotions that result from trauma. Unfortunately, most people are unaware that treatment level exists and many are unaware of what significant trauma does to kids and what that will look like in their home if they become foster parents.
Over 10% of foster kids are placed in treatment level foster care in Wisconsin. When a county agency believes that treatment level is necessary, they refer the child or sibling group to a private agency like Community Care Resources. It is often cost-prohibitive for many counties to refer children to this higher level of care. The cost of treatment care can push upwards of 4 times what traditional foster care costs. That is not a feasible cost for most Wisconsin county foster care agencies to absorb. The money just isn't available so many children who require additional services aren't getting them and are placed in traditional, level 2 foster homes that are not equipped to address a child's trauma.
CCR has approximately 120 children in care, many are sibling groups and most are over age five. "If we had more homes available we could easily fill them," says Brian Sullivan, referral coordinator for CCR. "We turn down significantly more referrals than we place." The numbers are staggering and often unbelievable, but they are true. Sadly, there will always be a shortage of homes and the number of children entering the system with significant trauma continues to increase.
Most kids have multiple traumas, complex traumas, and often times mental illness. So it makes sense that trauma and foster care go hand in hand. Treatment foster care goes beyond traditional out-of-home care. It focuses on healing and human development. Every child that comes into care receives a trauma strength and needs assessment followed by an initial assessment that includes looking at the symptoms. Treatment focuses on how those symptoms can be reduced and how to apply effective coping skills. These skills are built and developed under the rubric of trauma-informed care.
Key elements of treatment foster care include highly skilled foster parents who are part of the child’s treatment team, enhanced case management, and coordinated delivery of behavioral health and other community-based services. It can be a complicated circle of care but it works. Listen to Rita Martin, a long-time foster parent with CCR explain more.
So how do prospective foster parents decide between traditional county foster care and treatment foster care? Making the decision is dependent on the ages and behaviors of the children to be cared for. Fostering a baby or toddler is obviously very different than fostering school age children. The effects of their trauma have not yet rooted thus behaviors and emotions may not yet be presented. Check back in with a toddler in a few years and the symptoms may be clear. Fostering older kids and teens requires enhanced supervision and flexibility. The choice is up to the foster parent.
The trends in Wisconsin and around the country continue to go in the direction of more treatment options. We recognized this trend 30 years ago when Community Care Resources was formed. Back when trauma and treatment were relatively new buzzwords in social services and child welfare. The founders of CCR saw a need to provide a "different" type of foster care for youth with significant trauma. The vision was to create a foster agency built on treatment for youth with multiple traumas and support services that foster parents needed and requested not simply blanket support to everyone.
Foster parents are an active part in the healing process and are fully immersed in the day to day care of their kids thus should claim much of the success seen with the children. Many view themselves as professional foster parents with high-level skills, often caring for three to four children at one time. Listen to Rebecca share why she chooses to keep siblings together in treatment level care. She and husband Mark are currently caring for five brothers.
There are too many children in "traditional homes" not receiving any type of treatment services. Are they being cared for? Yes, but how much better would the outcomes be if kids were in a stable home that could treat and rehabilitate youth back into their communities. The bottom line is, nearly all kids in care have some sort of trauma. Assessing their trauma is usually not performed until significant behaviors present and traditional foster parents are overwhelmed. "Bouncing" happens when foster parents give notice to have foster children removed from their home. Bouncing creates more instability and compounds trauma and behaviors. Unfortunately, this cycle can continue for months or sometimes years before a child is referred to treatment level.
In 2018 there were approximately 785 children in treatment foster care in Wisconsin. The need for new homes is significant, particularly homes willing to accept sibling groups and youth with significant, problematic behaviors. The days of having a single foster child in a foster home are nearly gone. One of the questions prospective foster parents hear is "are you willing to accept more than one child into your family at one time". The majority say yes without hesitation, understanding that the need is great and if they can help one child why not help 2,3 or 4 at the same time. Read how to qualify to become a treatment foster parent.
Please contact us anytime, we are here to help you explore treatment foster care.