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Bryan Wegter 

Evansville's Paige Banks prepares to shoot a free throw during a Rock Valley Conference game Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, at Evansville High.

'The hardest part:' Foster parents take in drug-exposed children


Zander Martin can feel the vibration from a truck rolling down the street. 

Kade Martin wears bright blue goggles as he zooms around the living room.

Super heroes? No.

Special? Their parents would say so.

Zander, 5, has a sensory-processing disorder that causes him to crave sights, sounds and feelings, particularly vibrations.

His 3-year-old brother, Kade, wears glasses to correct the muscles in his eyes so he can look straight ahead. 

The boys were born to women who abused drugs while pregnant, causing potentially life-long issues—developmental delays, impulsive behavior, anxiety and unending of doctor appointments.

But both caught a break.

While still infants, they were adopted by their foster parents, Rachel and Kent Martin of Janesville.

The biological mothers relinquished parental rights.

Rachel and Kent said they found their "specialty" in fostering drug-exposed children after caring for Zander, who was their first placement. 

Angela Major 

The Martin family gathers around a birthday cake for Rachel Martin, center, as she blows out the candles.

But it's not easy.

"The whole idea of foster care and adoption it is not anything that could be made into a Hallmark movie," Kent said.

"You don’t adopt and put a bow on it and everything is happily ever after. Adopting is not the hardest part, it is moving forward."

Becoming the Martins

Kent and Rachel married in 2001 and soon became pregnant with their first child, Chandler, now 16. 

The couple have three biological children—Chandler; Peyton, 13; and Reese, 10—whom they call their "homemade children."

Angela Major 

Peyton Martin, 13, one of the Martin’s three “homemade” children, reads in the living room while his family finishes eating dinner.

The walls of the family's Janesville home are lined with Bible passages and spiritual quotations. The Martins are deeply devoted to their Christian faith and attend Faith Community Church on Lucerne Drive, where they both volunteer with youth ministry.

The couple share a pro-life stance, which aided their decision to become foster parents, Kent said.

"We had someone tell us, 'If you are pro-life, what are you doing about that?' For Rachel and I, we felt like that was a valid point," Kent said.

The couple felt they had to do something for the "unwanted" kids in Rock County, Kent said.

In October, The Gazette told the story of Nicole Shipler, a Janesville mother who used heroin while pregnant with her daughter Madison.

Nicole maintained custody of Madison because she participated in treatment programs with Rock County Human Services. Both Madison and Nicole are healthy today. 

But not all drug-exposed infants can stay with their parents. Many end up in Rock County's foster system, said Stacey Speich, program manager for human services.

Rachel and Kent became licensed foster parents in 2013. Twenty-four hours after becoming licensed, Rachel received a phone call from the county asking if they could take in 1-week-old Zander.

Zander arrived at the Martin's home the next day. He had spent the first week of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit, and when the Martins took him in he still was showing symptoms of withdrawal from his mother's cocaine use, Rachel said.

Raising Zander

"After caring for three kids, you think you know what you’re doing, but then you get a drug-exposed (child), and you feel like you don’t," Kent said. "It feels like your first child."

Angela Major 

Chandler Martin, 16, right, sits at the dinner table with his 5-year-old brother, Zander.

Zander had trouble self-soothing as a baby and let out blood-curdling screams, Rachel said. His muscles were rigid and he had seizures and tremors in his first couple months.

Doctors told the Martins that Zander likely will have developmental delays. He still struggles with sensory disorder, oral stimulation and impulsive behavior, Rachel said.

But Zander has empathy, which some drug-exposed children struggle to develop, Rachel said. 

She gives a list of behaviors and tips to anyone with whom Zander interacts but who might not understand his "invisible disability," Rachel said.

"Explaining to people was so exhausting, and it hurt because you have people who don’t get it, and they look at your son like, ‘Ugh. He is such a naughty kid.’ Like, no he is not," Rachel said. "I feel like they’re judging him."

Rachel and Kent had a strong relationship with Zander's birth mom while they fostered him. But when Zander was 1 year old, his mother volunteered to terminate her parental rights and then dropped out of touch, Rachel said.

"We have looked for her on Facebook a few times but have not been able to find her," Rachel said. "We are always hoping to bump into her because we think it would be a positive thing for her to know that he is doing well."

The Martins try to maintain relationships with birth parents of the children they foster because it's best for the children, they said.

"Ken and Rachel are extraordinary at trying to establish and maintain connections with birth parents. It is something they really whole-heartedly work for," said Christine Darr, a social worker with the Rock County foster program.

To date, the Martin family has hosted six children, including three drug-exposed children. They have adopted two—Zander and Kade.

Angela Major 

Kent Martin, right, serves dinner to his son, Zander, at their Janesville home.

'Special little man'

Rachel first visited Kade in a neonatal intensive care unit in Madison. 

Kade spent his first six weeks in the hospital because he was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome— a condition diagnosed when an infant is born with drug withdrawal. 

In the hospital, Kade was given morphine to ease his withdrawal. Doctors gave Kent and Rachel a lesser opioid to administer after they took him home, Kent said.

Doctors suspected Kade had brain damage. He didn't use the right side of his body for some time and needed physical therapy, Rachel said.

But after five months, it "was like someone turned the lights on," Kent said. 

Kade began improving. One of his doctors called him a "special little man," Rachel said. 

At age 3, Kade is doing well. He is intelligent. He still struggles with his eyes and wears bifocals to correct his eye muscles, Rachel said.

Angela Major 

Chandler Martin, left, is tagged by his 3-year-old brother, Kade, while playing “carpet tag” after dinner. The family plays different games to blow off steam before bed.

"Our older boys always say, ‘He is a genius with his glasses on, but when he takes his glasses off...’ They are kind of like his super power," Rachel said.

Rachel and Kent did not initially have a relationship with Kade's birth mom but do now, Rachel said. The couple recently met Kade's birth mother in a park so she could see his progress.

Kent sees the parents of the children they have cared for as struggling with something they can't handle, he said.

"The way we will explain it (to Kade and Zander) is, ‘Your mom did something really courageous. She made the really, really tough decision to do what was best for you.' We don’t see a reason to bash birth parents," Kent said.

Rock County needs

Darr started working with Rock County's foster program in July 2017 but has been a social worker with the county since 2006, she said. 

"I have seen some extremely resilient babies," Darr said.

The need for homes for drug-exposed babies continues to rise in Rock County, Darr said. 

To meet increasing needs, the county met this year with medical professionals from Mercyhealth and SSM Health to learn more about how to care for drug-exposed children. They share that knowledge with foster parents of high-risk children, Darr said. 

The county has 49 licensed general foster homes, 34 relative licensed foster homes and about 250 children in the foster care system, Darr said. More homes, especially for high-risk children, always are needed.

Social workers try to place children in the homes of relatives, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, before sending them to general foster homes. This helps maintain family relationships, Darr said. 

Angela Major 

Reese Martin, 10, hides behind a cabinet as the Martin family plays a game of “carpet tag” after dinner.

The goal of foster care is to reunite the child with his or her birth parent. Some children, such as Zander and Kade, don't have that opportunity, Darr said. 

Conditions for reunification are different for each family, Darr said. Generally, parents need to reach court-ordered checkpoints, which can include becoming sober, finding stable living conditions and other self-improvement goals. 

The most common stipulation is "the parent needs to demonstrate ability to provide for physical, medical, emotional and medical needs on a daily basis," Darr said. 

Faces to the issue

Becoming foster parents helped Kent and Rachel understand the challenges some people in Rock County are facing, Kent said. 

"Such a large amount of people are having struggles with drugs," Kent said. "(It) really alerted us to, 'Oh my goodness, we are no longer sheltered from this stuff.' There was actually faces connected to what is going on."

Kent and Rachel include their "homemade children" in the foster care process. They talk to their children before each placement, and if one of them is not on board, they don't do it, Kent said.

The Martin children have talked to their friends about foster care. Kent and Rachel have shared their experiences with members of their church, Rachel said. 

"We know it is going further than just our home. It is going into the community," Rachel said.

Angela Major 

Rachel Martin chases her 5-year-old son, Zander, through the kitchen during a post-dinner game of “carpet tag.”

On a snowy night in November, the Martin family ate dinner together in the kitchen around multiple tables to accommodate all eight of them. Dinner was followed by game night.

It was Zander's turn to choose from a list of games the family has created. His chose carpet tag, a game in which those standing on carpet are safe.

The family exchanged laughs and squeals as they chased each other in circles.

Kent and Rachel said their family isn't perfect. They struggle to know what's normal.

"A lot of times people look at us like we are superhuman. They say, 'Oh, that’s amazing, I could never do that,'" Kent said. "... We can't do it, either.

"It’s really gut-wrenching to invest everything we and our family have to offer into a child."

top story
Diversity Action Team marks 20 years of fighting racism

Neil Deupree

Diversity Action Team celebrates 20 years of fighting racism

“Love, not fear, must be our guide.” —Rosa Parks, civil rights activist


More than 20 years ago, members of the Janesville branch of the American Association of University Women wanted to make their membership more diverse.

“We surveyed our members,” Leslie Brunsell of Janesville recalled. “We found out we were a bunch of middle-aged Anglo-Saxon Protestants.”

The membership tried to bring minorities and different religious and ethnic backgrounds into the chapter, but progress was slow.

In 1998, the group organized a breakfast and invited residents who might be interested in encouraging more diversity in Janesville.

“We thought there has to be other people who want to make the city a more welcoming place,” Brunsell said.

During the breakfast, like-minded people found each other and eventually became the Diversity Action Team of Rock County, or DAT.

The fledgling group’s purpose was to make the city more hospitable to all people regardless of ethnicity, race, economic status or abilities.

The group also wanted to encourage people of color to live and work in Janesville.

Two decades later, Brunsell is a proud founding member of the Diversity Action Team—a committed force against racism and all forms of discrimination in Rock County.

The group embraces diversity, values multiculturalism and fosters justice, dignity and respect for everyone, according to its mission statement.

“I feel like we have planted a seed,” Brunsell said. “The seed grows and spreads through the community. We are not done yet, but I think we made some changes.”

With more than 60 members, the team keeps issues of diversity and racial justice in the forefront and creates awareness that diversity is good.

Angela Major 

Leslie Brunsell keeps a map in her home for guests from all over the globe to sign when they come to visit. Brunsell has long advocated for diversity in Janesville and Rock County.

‘A ton of work to do’

Marc Perry is president of the team’s board of directors

“The mission of the group is battling racism,” he said. “That is something I strongly believe in.”

Perry has been a member for about five years.

He praised the group’s regular programs during the school year and a monthly discussion about racial justice called “Courageous Conversations.” The Diversity Action Team joins with Community Action and YWCA Rock County for the discussions, which focus on timely topics such as discrimination faced by native people and fears in the Latino community.

“Another topic we talk about regularly is discrimination against the LGBT community,” Perry said. “It is important that we hear from people who are living with discrimination every day.”

Perry called the team’s free educational programs key to creating awareness.

“If no one talks about the issues, people have the opportunity to ignore them,” he said.

He said Wisconsin has some of the worst racial disparities in the country.

“African-Americans in Wisconsin have high infant-mortality rates, high child-poverty rates, poorer health outcomes, higher rates of incarceration and lower rates of graduation,” Perry said. “There’s a ton of work to do.”

In the future, he wants team membership to be more racially diverse.

“We have to do more outreach and engage people where they are instead of having them come to where we are,” Perry said. “We need to go to churches, community dinners and visit community groups.”

He believes the only way to combat racism is by building relationships.

“When we have distance between us, it is easy to dehumanize,” Perry said. “When a human being is in front of us and sharing information, it makes it much harder.”

Recognition in community

Santo Carfora, a longtime Diversity Action Team member, said everyone in the volunteer group is involved “because we have a passion to make a difference in Rock County.”

In the last two decades, the team has become well-known among community leaders and residents.

“One of the outstanding things that has happened is we have recognition in the community as a group that deals with a broad scope of diversity issues,” Carfora said. “We are like the ombudsmen for diversity issues.”

He praised city, county and school officials on efforts to become more diverse, inclusive and culturally competent.

In addition to educational programming, the team:

  • Promotes or offers regular diversity workshops for the community. The workshops help people avoid stereotyping, build trust with people from different backgrounds and become allies for diversity.
  • Periodically offers study circles to give people the chance to talk about tough issues, including power and privilege, fear and anger, race and racism. Team members have taught at least 15 study circles.
  • Is a key part of the annual Martin Luther King commemoration in January at Blackhawk Technical College.
  • Offers opportunities to socialize across racial boundaries, share stories and have fun.

Jill Gant, the group’s secretary, said the most satisfying part of belonging to the group is listening to the stories of people who are open and honest about overcoming struggles with injustice.

The Janesville woman believes the team is making a difference.

As an example, she said school district curriculum is in the process of being corrected “to reflect correct historical facts about indigenous people and the discovery of America.”

A committee of Diversity Action Team members worked continuously on the issue for months, she added.

Member Neil Deupree also believes the group is effecting positive change.

“One of the things DAT has tried to do is advocate for our government to be more inclusive and diverse and welcoming,” he said. “I think Rock County is making huge strides in terms of training people and being more culturally competent.”

He said change takes time.

“We have to realize it has taken hundreds of years to get to where we are,” Deupree said. “Things do not change quickly or easily. In fact, there’s always pushback.”

He measures progress one day at a time.

“If we can encourage people to pursue justice and reconciliation in their daily lives,” he said, “then we are successful.”

Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarie

NOTE: Jill Gant, secretary of the Diversity Action Team, reached out to The Gazette after the above story was published to clarify a statement she made regarding the school district and curriculum regarding indigenous peoples.

She said the committee has not directly changed any school district curriculum. It has prepared an American Indian Resource Guide for the school district to use, she said.

Texas judge’s ruling that health care law is unconstitutional could leave the law fatally wounded — or even stronger

More than 130 million Americans woke up Saturday morning to the news that their health care coverage has been thrown into doubt.

That’s because, late Friday night, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the Affordable Care Act—including its exchange health plans, Medicaid expansion and its provisions affecting Medicare’s prescription drugs benefit—is unconstitutional, lock, stock and barrel.

As my colleague Noam Levey reports, Judge Reed O’Connor didn’t issue an injunction against the law, so the federal and state governments still can enforce it, for now. Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma, who oversees the ACA, said Friday that “the exchanges are still open for business and we will continue with open enrollment. There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan.”

On the other hand, President Donald Trump crowed on Twitter that “Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” He happens to be wrong, technically, but that hasn’t stopped him in the past.

Legal experts across the political spectrum say O’Connor’s decision is so flawed and threadbare of logic that it’s likely to be overturned, and rapidly, by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It could also be tossed by the Supreme Court, which has upheld the constitutionality of the ACA several times.

If that happens, removing a last-gasp challenge to the law filed by Texas and 19 other red states, the ACA could end up stronger than ever, its provisions etched into the American health care system for the long term.

But in today’s political and juridical environment anything can happen. So supporters of the law, who are now the majority of Americans, need to keep their fingers crossed.

The Texas case was the latest iteration of conservatives’ eight-year campaign against the Affordable Care Act, which included scores of repeal attempts in Congress and at least three trips to the Supreme Court. This time around, the red states argued that when the Republican Congress reduced the penalty for not carrying health care coverage to zero—a provision of the tax cut Trump signed last December—the result was to nullify the whole law.

Their position was endorsed by the Trump administration, which withdrew its defense of the law before O’Connor in June, thus making the unconstitutionality of the law official Trump doctrine. But 16 blue states, led by California, won the right to defend the law in the federal government’s stead. On Friday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra denounced the ruling and pledged that “our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and well-being of all Americans.”

It’s proper to observe that the plaintiff states maneuvered carefully to bring their case before O’Connor by filing it in a branch courthouse where he’s the only federal judge on call. They know their man: O’Connor was a Senate Republican staff functionary without judicial experience when he was named to the bench by George W. Bush in 2007.

Since then, he has been a reliable vote against progressive programs in almost all particulars, ruling against gun control measures, the ACA’s rules against gender discrimination and Obama administration rules barring discrimination against transgender public school students.

Legal authorities were braced for Friday’s ACA ruling from O’Connor, who had made no secret during proceedings in his Fort Worth courtroom of his disdain for the law. Many thought he might invalidate the ACA’s rules requiring insurance companies to accept all applicants and forbidding them to charge more for people with pre-existing conditions. They were shocked by the breadth of his conclusion that the whole law had to go. “Absolutely insane” was the judgment of Nicholas Bagley of the University of Michigan law school, a long-term supporter of the ACA.

His view was echoed by Jonathan Adler of Case Western Reserve School of Law, a conservative who was the architect of a legal strategy that aimed to overturn much of the law’s premium subsidies (but was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2015). Adler called O’Connor’s decision “surprising—and surprisingly weak.”

“I do not believe this opinion is long for this world. However superficially plausible the plaintiff states’ claims initially appear, they melt upon inspection,” Adler said.

Let’s take a quick look at O’Connor’s reasoning. He asserts that in enacting the law in 2010, Congress stated that the individual mandate was “essential” to the operation of the ACA. The mandate imposed a tax penalty on anyone without a health insurance. Because the Supreme Court had found the tax penalty to be constitutional, O’Connor wrote, when Congress reduced the penalty to zero, the individual mandate became unconstitutional.

The reason, he wrote, is that Congress made no provision for “severability” in the ACA—that is, providing that if some of its elements were overturned, the others would remain in force. O’Connor argues that the 2017 Congress, which zeroed out the tax penalty, didn’t say what it intended to happen to the rest of the law. “There is no answer,” he wrote, so the 2010 Congress’s view that the law must stand or fall in conjunction with the mandate must prevail.

The flaw in this reasoning, as Bagley, Adler and others point out, is that the 2017 Congress did make its view of severability clear. It did so by invalidating the tax penalty, but not repealing the law. So in 2017, Congress had come around to the view that the rest of the ACA could survive without the mandate.

“We know for certain that (Congress) believed it could safely ditch the mandate penalty and keep the rest of the ACA intact,” Bagley wrote in June. “We know because that’s what it did.”

The chief imponderable from O’Connor’s ruling is its political impact. Even if it’s tossed out on appeal, the ruling demonstrates how far Republicans will go to undermine the ACA.

Death notices and obituaries for Dec. 16, 2018

Patricia A. Engen

Barbara A. (Korth) Lindner

Betty Mantey

Loren K. Mayfield

JoAnn McDaniel

Ruth M. Olson

Betty A. (Stluka) Ronde

Angela Major 

Tammy McCaslin Krebs of Milton holds bags as they’re filled with food Saturday at the Dollar General distribution center in Janesville.