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Eight’s not enough: Janesville couple recommends foster parenting

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ANN MARIE AMES
May 3, 2008
— Walking into the Humphreys’ home is a lot like walking into any other home on Janesville’s east side.

Dad runs up the stairs to answer the door with a shy toddler at his feet.


Then Mom walks in with a couple of teens, eyeing up the stranger at the door.


So far, so normal.


Then you walk into the dining room, where you see a table built for a day care center. Walking down the stairs, you discover a couple more kids watching TV and playing.


Walk around the corner and you discover another small child entertaining a giggling baby in a bouncy seat.


It’s hard to believe such a big family can be so quiet.


Greg and Karin Humphrey have eight children right now. Four are foster children, and four are former foster children whom the Humphreys have adopted.


A recent grocery bill was $456 for about two weeks of supplies, Karin said.


The Humphreys recommend fostering to people who are wondering if they should try it. But it’s not for everyone, they said.


“You’ve got to have patience,” Greg said. “All these kids are looking for is love. If you give them that, it’ll be OK.”


Introducing a new child to the family is different every time, Karin said. But the majority of the kids start calling Karin and Greg “Mom and Dad” as soon as they walk in the door, she said.


“They just haven’t had that,” Karin said.


Karin has been a foster parent for 19 years. She adopted three girls in 2002 before she met and married Greg: Miranda, 13; Athena, 14; and Sadie, 15.


Together, Karin and Greg, 34, adopted Beau, 4.


He’s the only boy right now in the family that ranges from two months to 15 years.


Karin, 48, also baby-sits for her grandchildren during the day. She has three daughters from a previous marriage: Mandy, 30; Jessica, 28; and Emilee, 22.


Karin gets a break every morning when she runs before 5 a.m. She and Greg, who works at R & R Concrete, take a break once a year for a trip to Mexico without any kids.


Karin estimates she’s fostered 300 children from all over the United States. Because they have their own teenage girls, the Humphreys stick to fostering young children. They are happy to take sibling sets, which is a big need in Rock County, foster care Director Renee Sutkay said.


In fact, Miranda, Athena and Sadie are sisters, as are three of the little girls in the family today, ages 2 months, 2 and 5.


The Humphreys act as long-term foster parents and emergency parents for the Rock County foster program. They have had as many as 14 children in their five-bedroom home at one time.


The Humphrey’s willingness to be flexible and take in sibling sets makes them a valuable part of foster care in Rock County, subsitute care specialist Janet Hemauer said.


Hemauer is a consistant contact for the Humphreys as children come and go through the system.


Karin and Greg are very caring and have the best interest of the children in mind at all times, Hemauer said, and are willing to work with the foster system.


“Karin works excellently with the birth parents,” Hemauer said. “Everything we want in a foster home, they really are a great example of that.”


The teenaged Humphrey girls beam when asked what it’s like to constantly be getting new baby brothers or sisters.


Karin laughs. She hardly gets to take care of the infants because the older girls enjoy it so much, she said.


“It’s fun having new kids come,” Athena said. She tickled a little sister, who giggled the way only a 2-year-old can.


“You get to hear laughs like this all the time.”


Needs of foster children changing: Rock County placing few children but with greater needs

The Rock County Foster Care Program must constantly adapt to the changing needs of some of the most sensitive children in the community.


And while the needs of individual children vary greatly, overall, the program is seeing children with greater emotional, mental and medical needs, program director Renee Sutkay said.


The program includes 71 families scattered around the county who are capable of taking in foster children with different levels of needs, Sutkay said. As of this week, 115 children had been placed in foster homes in Rock County, she said.


But the county never stops recruiting families for care, she said.


Currently, the county has a special need for foster families willing to take young sibling sets. Commonly, foster care staff work to place groups of up to three children when they’re younger than 4, she said.


The county also has a demand for foster families in the Beloit area, she said.


The program also has changed on the foster family end, Sutkay said. More people who are unable to have children and might or might not want to adopt are interested in becoming foster parents, she said.


Children come into the foster care system because they have been neglected or abused, Sutkay said. Occasionally, a parent self-reports that he or she is not able to provide a stable home for a child, she said.


“Maybe (the children) have really high mental, emotional or medical needs,” Sutkay said. “They might need treatment in a group home. Maybe the families have other kids or have just lost a job.”


The county placed 201 children in foster homes in 2007. In 2006, the number was low at 175. For three years before that, the number hovered around 215.


Foster children tend to have attachment issues and other emotional issues as well as medical or mental health needs, she said. They’ve had to deal with the stress of being separated from their families and the back and forth of the foster system, she said.


“It’s hard on kids,” Sutkay said.


Almost always, the goal is to reunite children with their birth parents. With few exceptions, that’s where kids want to be, Sutkay said.


“We see it again and again. Kids turn 18, and they head back home. No matter how bad it was. It’s how we’re wired,” Sutkay said


Prospective parents should expect rigorous questioning

Everyone has advice for new parents.


Magazines, in-laws and childless friends all claim to have better ideas than Mom and Dad.


But if you want to be a foster parent, you’re really going to get grilled about your lifestyle and parenting skills.


“You’re in a fishbowl,” Rock County Foster Care Director Renee Sutkay said. “We expect more out of foster parents than we expect out of the general population as far as parenting skills.”


The majority of people that want to become foster parents simply want to help a child, Sutkay said. That’s a great motivation, but there’s more to fostering.


Foster parents must be willing to welcome the entire foster care system into their home, including social workers, court-appointed advocates and other specialists.


Foster parents also must be willing to work with a child’s birth parents to help those parents bring their kids back home. Returning foster children to their own families is the goal of the foster program, Sutkay said.


“It’s not just taking care of a child. It’s working with the entire system,” Sutkay said. “This is not your child. It’s coming to you with a whole story. That’s draining on families. It’s not just a new family member, but a whole team.”


Here’s a thumbnail sketch of what to expect if you’d like to become a foster parent:


-- Training and orientation sessions for perspective foster parents will change at the end of this month. The last “status quo” orientation will take place at 1 and 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, at the Rock County Job Center, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville.


Interested families also may attend a celebration of foster care at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, May 10, at First Lutheran Church, 612 North Randall Ave.


Things will change drastically in June when the length of training goes from three months to three nights.


The new program, passed down from the state, still will be effective because it will give interested foster parents the nuts and bolts of the program. Previously, parents spent time role playing and talking about possible challenges.


Training is scheduled for Thursdays, June 12 and 19.


-- You don’t have to have a “traditional” family or be a stay-home mom to be a foster parent, Sutkay said. Most foster families are working families, and single people may foster children.


-- After orientation, families that still are interested can expect a rigorous background check, Sutkay said. Foster care staff comb through online court records and sex-offender Web sites.


If you’ve had a past run-in with the law, you’re not automatically disqualified, Sutkay said. Staff consider the nature of the crime and the length of time it’s been since you committed it.


But be ready to talk about it in the next step.


-- If you pass the background check, be ready to talk about every aspect of your personal life, Sutkay said. The interviews take hours and generate more than 30 pages of reports, Sutkay said.


Are you taking your medication correctly?


If you normally work out in the morning before work, how will you watch the children? If you decide to cut the workout from your routine, how will you deal with added stress?


If you’re married, how do you and your spouse deal with conflict?


What are your relationships like with your parents or your adult siblings?


Children currently placed in Rock County foster homes:

-- Beloit—49


-- Janesville—69


-- Edgerton—9


-- Milton—2


-- Evansville—2


Total: 131


Foster families available in Rock County communities:


-- Avalon—1


-- Beloit—16


-- Brodhead—1


-- Clinton—3


-- Edgerton—8


-- Evansville—1


-- Janesville—30


-- Milton—4


-- Orfordville—3


-- Whitewater—4


Total: 71


Number of children in Rock County foster homes annually:


2008—115, as of May 1


2007—201


2006—175


2005—216


2004—215


2003—217


If you go
What: An open house to honor current foster parents and encourage those interested to get involved.
When: 1:30 to 3 p.m., Saturday, May 10.
Where: First Lutheran Church, 612 N. Randall Ave., Janesville.
Details: All are welcome to attend, and there is no need to RSVP. Childcare is available. The event is sponsored by Rock County foster parents, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan Treatment Foster Parents.
Why: Rock County children of all ages need foster homes. The need is greatest for young sibling sets. The intent of foster care is to provide a temporary home for children until they can return home.

For more information: Call Renee Sutkay at (608) 757-5240 or Emily Tofte at (608) 752-7660, Ext. 11.



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