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August 17, 2019

7/20/2019 7:30:00 AM
Grants, donations helping kids in foster care
Abigail Bostwick
Of The Lakeland Times

Many Northwoods children of all ages have been in need of out of home foster care in recent years, an ongoing trend counties continue to deal with.

To balance offset and in-the-red budgets, some grants and community members are stepping forward to aid the kids in need and the families who have taken on welcoming those kids into their homes.

The Vilas County Social Services Committee learned Tuesday morning the county recently received a Foster Parent Support Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Child and Families (DCS) in the amount of $1,100, according to director Kate Gardner.

"The grant will be used for recruitment and for existing foster parent assistance," Kelly Pyne at Vilas County Social Services said. "Also for actives for members and reimbursement for their time and mileage."

Further, St. Matthias Thrift Shop also recently donated $2,000 toward the Foster Parent Closet in Vilas County, Pyne noted, funds which will purchase items needed by foster families and the children.

A significant $75,000 grant last year to nine counties, including Vilas and Oneida from DCS, permitted creation of the foster closets in many counties. Funds were spread equally across the counties. Monies also helped foster parents to enroll kids in activities such as camps, dance, sports and other interest that may otherwise have been to expensive to provide, Pyne added. Lastly, the grant allowed for a website where foster parents can chat with one another and find resources. One of those resources includes access to volunteers who aid with child care, errands meals and more. Another was training.

"It paid for each county to target and lend to parents who didn't have that resource before," Pyne said of the large grant.

Even after the grant funds wrap up now, the foster closet will continue and local social services hope through volunteer and donation efforts, will remain well-stocked.

The purpose of the closet specifically, Pyne explained, is to provide foster parents with non-food items such as clothes, diapers, school supplies, soap, shampoo and other hygiene products.

"It's amazing to see how the community comes together," Pyne said of the donation efforts she has already seen. Besides St. Matthias, one local quilting group is active in making and giving blankets and bags for foster children as they adjust. Other organizations and businesses have held clothes and coat drives. "It's just the kindest things."

The need for foster parents and support for them is significant and still growing in counties such as Vilas, Oneida and Iron as well as many others. The main drive a direct cause of the opioid crisis.

Pyne works with foster parents, funding and recruitment and licensing for homes. Vilas County currently has 11 licensed foster homes. Roughly 100 children are in out of home care in recent months. Several children are placed outside of the county when local foster homes are full, Pyne indicated.

The state allocation for foster homes is severely underfunded, Vilas and Oneida county board recently learned, supporting the state increase that funding via passed resolutions across the board. The request was for $30 million statewide.

Caseloads remain heavy for social workers across the board as well.

Resources such as the foster closet help take off some of the challenges for those families.

"It's a tough job," Pyne said. "We do whatever we can to take some of the stress away and help out."

To donate to the foster parent closet, or find out how to become a foster family or volunteer to help, one may contact Vilas County Social Services at 715-479-3721. Oneida County Social Services also has a foster parent closet, and may be contacted at 715-362-5695. Most needed items right now are school supplies or funds for them.

"We're really grateful to have the support we have received," Pyne said.

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