Racine families hope to make positive change in foster care system
Earlier this week, Wisconsin lawmakers rolled out a series of bills to change the foster care system.
The 13 bills called "Foster Forward" focus on keeping kids in their homes and out of the system, giving foster children better medical care, and paying for their college. To read more about each bill, click here.
In Wisconsin, the number of foster children has grown 20% over the last five years.
"Hopefully change a child's life. That's the ultimate goal," said Kevin Bower.
Kevin and his wife Dana recently started their journey to become foster parents -- they were licensed just two weeks ago.
"We're just waiting for that phone call," said Dana Bower.
They have a pack and play, stroller, carseat and other supplies ready to go, for the moment they're asked to take in an emergency placement foster child.
The Bower's know they're walking into a system with a lot of challenges.
Right now, there's around 7,500 kids in Wisconsin foster care, and of the kids that age out the outlook isn't good: 1 in 2 get arrested, 1 in 5 become homeless, only 2% get their college degree.
Things are also getting worse with the opioid epidemic.
"Seventy to nintey percent come from a house with drug issue. those kids have different need than the kids in th system 20-30 years ago," said Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska.
Over the last year, the assembly's task force on foster care held listening sessions throughout the state. The issues they heard from foster parents, foster children, biological parents, teachers and foster care employees helped shape the 13 bills.
"There's a lot of gaps in our system that we have learned about throught the process, and that we're going to talk about that," said Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
The Bower family did meet with Speaker Vos about the system snags they ran into when they were becoming foster parents. The Bower's say they saw the demand for foster parents, and hope others will volunteer to become parents.
Although, they're not waiting for bills to become laws to make a difference.
Mark and Heather Lojeski were foster parents nearly 20 years ago, and since then they made it their life's work -- starting a non profit to help foster children.
Now they want to start a receiving house, and the Bowers are helping.
"They need somewhere they can play, rest, be taken care of and case workers need time to do work," said Heather Lojeski.
If a child is taken from their family in the middle of the night, Heather says they are left to sleep on office chairs while the case worker locates family, or a foster home. A receiving home would make them more comfortable in that traumatic situation.
Lojeski says they want to make the receiving home like 'Grandma's house' where volunteers come in and create a family-like atmosphere to welcome the kids.
"They'll come in, bake cookies, do homework, make dinner with them... it's a great way to work with the kids and show them the love and care they need during traumatic time," said Heather Lojeski,
The Bowers' construction company will remodel the home... but the ultimate goal is to construct change in a child.
"Even if it's only something small, when they look back years later they can say, 'someone cared about me.'" said Mark Lojeski.
You can learn more about becoming a foster parents at http://racinecounty.com/government/human-services/youth-and-family/foster-care
If you'd like to learn more about the receiving home, the Lojeski's say you should follow their non-profit, Faith, Hope, Love's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/faithhopelovebags/
$200,000 is needed to open the receiving home, and the non-profit has already raised more than $10,000 in their first month. There's two ways you can donate.
On their website, http://www.fhlforkids.org/donate/, you should specify in the note portion that the donation should go towards the receiving home.
You can also make your donation at https://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/building-faith-hope-love-home-for-children