Beyond Yourself :: One Wisconsin Family’s Foster Parenting Story in the Age of Coronavirus

Written by Jenny Fyksen

My husband Teal (who works in Marathon County’s Conservation, Planning, and Zoning Department) and I have always had a strong desire to adopt or become foster parents to a child in need of a loving home. Our hearts feel for children who don’t have all the care and support they need. We have 3 children of our own (ages 4, 9, and 11), so we felt as though we didn’t have enough spare time, energy, or margin to dedicate ourselves to full-time foster care. But then one day, we learned about an incredible opportunity to help a struggling family in our own community — and on a part-time basis. Well, we jumped at the opportunity to lend a helping hand!

Last year, we began providing part-time respite care for 2 young children in Marathon County. Though the parents clearly loved their kids, they had several issues that affected their ability to adequately care for their children. To compound matters, they were new to the area so they had no local support system. When Social Services was alerted to this family, they saw no evidence of abuse or addiction issues, so they sought to try something new: avoid foster care placement by strengthening this family unit with a special support team. Social Services brought in a plethora of resources and people to teach and equip the parents: a parenting mentor; someone to teach the parents cleaning, cooking, and organizational skills; and 3 different respite (childcare) providers. My husband and I were one of these respite providers.

For a year, we welcomed these children (ages 3 and 4) into our home for approximately 10 hours a week and occasionally overnight and then returned them to their parents. It wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning. The children had dietary and behavioral issues that made mealtimes especially challenging for our whole family. It was suggested that we read The Connected Child, by Karen Purvis, which proved to be a wonderful resource and helped us better connect with and effectively meet the needs of these 2 children.

We spent countless hours talking with their other respite providers to better understand the children’s strengths and weaknesses and to set achievable goals for them. We lovingly set consistent boundaries for the children, praised their progress, and showered them with affection. Over time, the children overcame their food aversions, became better socialized, and strengthened their sibling bond. After the children learned to trust us and their other respite providers, they became the most loving and sweet children to have around. They developed manners, were polite, and were making better eating choices — even asking for fresh fruits and veggies from time to time. The 4-year-old, who had struggled with sensory overload in unfamiliar environments, was now thriving at swim lessons.

The parents made strides as well, making healthier choices for their whole family and enhancing their life skills, which was clearly building their self-worth and self-esteem. The swath of tools and the team of people Social Services had put in place for this family were making an impact!

Then, in a flash, coronavirus struck and everything changed . . .

The parents had talked periodically about moving across the country to be closer to family. In March 2020, with the threat of coronavirus in full-swing and the husband’s job furloughed due to the pandemic, the family packed their belongings, rented a moving truck, and moved to Florida.

While we miss the children dearly, we are glad they are reunited with their extended family in this difficult time, and we hope that the parents will continue making positive strides forward with their new support system, building on the solid foundations that we so lovingly provided for them.

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Editor’s Note: As you can see, our Social Services team works hard to offer innovative solutions to support families and children in need in Marathon County.

Read on as Foster Care Coordinator Sara Klebenow, of Marathon County Social Services, opens your eyes to several ways you can assist with our ongoing foster care efforts in Marathon County — from volunteering to provide meals, supplies, or transportation to opening your home to full-time foster care, and everything in between.

Marathon County Social Services logo

Respite (Part-Time) Providers of Foster Care

The Fyksens had a special scenario in which they helped provide informal respite care through Marathon County Social Services’ Comprehensive Community Services / Children’s Long-Term Support (CCS/CLTS) program. Children in this program have increased care requirements due to disabilities and health needs, and we are so appreciative of the Fyksens’ touching story of how they generously opened their hearts and their home to this family in need. Respite providers can care for children with or without special needs and can be either formally licensed or informal respite providers. Respite providers of various kinds and commitment levels help other full- or part-time foster caregivers in Marathon County get a much-needed break on occasion and help provide additional opportunities for socialization for the children.

Foster Care Support Through Local Churches

Another way people can support foster care is within their church communities. Several churches in Marathon County have partnered with Welcomed to develop care communities to support foster families within their congregations. Volunteers can help by providing foster parents with meals, transportation, child care, or mentoring. The agency also accepts donations from the community to support foster parents as well. If interested, visit the Welcomed website or watch this video.


Wondering About Long-Term Foster Care? Meet the The Ohrt Family

Matthew and Denise Ohrt have provided long-term care to children in Marathon County since their time as foster parents, as well as respite for numerous children placed in other foster homes. They’ve advocated for the children in their care to receive services and support related to their needs or medical issues. They’ve always treated every child who came into their home as their own — with love, respect, encouragement, and support.

Ohrt family
The Ohrt Family, who have opened their home to several foster children in Marathon County (not pictured). (Photo courtesy of Denise Ohrt.)

While going through the journey of foster care, the Ohrts noticed a need for clothing, toys, and other essential items for children who are coming into foster care. In response to this need, Denise created a non-profit called NOAH (Neighbor’s Offering A Hand).

NOAH - logo

This local non-profit organization is designed to be a resource for foster families in Marathon County to receive clothing, toys, baby essentials, books, beds, bikes, and so on, for children placed in out-of-home care.

Denise meets foster parents or social workers at NOAH and works with them to make sure the children have everything they need. If Denise notices there is a need for something she doesn’t have on hand, she’ll reach out to the community and find whatever is needed for the families or children. To see what current needs there are, visit the Neighbors Offering a Hand Facebook page. (NOTE: They can arrange for no-contact pick-ups/drop-offs to maintain social distancing during the current COVID-19 crisis.)

The Greatest Needs for Foster Care in Marathon County :: Teenagers & Sibling Groups

We have many teenagers who are in need of out-of-home care. They benefit greatly from opportunities to learn independent-living and life skills and to help prepare them for adulthood. We also have a need for families able to care for sibling groups of 2 or more children. Whenever possible, Marathon County Social Services works to keep sibling groups together to help minimize the trauma they are experiencing.

Foster Care - Change a Lifetime

Where to Get More Information on Becoming a Foster Parent

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about Foster Care, you can connect with us on Facebook at Marathon County Foster Care or call Marathon County Social Services at 715-261-7500. Foster families can provide care on a short-term or long-term basis, with the goal of re-uniting children with their biological families.

We would be glad to give you information on how to attend our next informational meeting to learn more about foster care, ask questions, or even find out the next steps to become a part-time or full-time foster parent or respite care provider.

Another way to help is to donate emergency supplies, which Marathon County Social Services keeps on hand for when children are placed in out-of-home care — including diapers, wipes, toiletries, and journey bags filled with blankets, pajamas, and stuffed animals to help provide comfort to children when being placed outside their home.

None of the circumstances that require children to receive out-of-home care are easy. Foster homes are the safe and loving hands that may allow children to thrive during a difficult time.

Thanking Our Foster Care Providers

At Marathon County, we appreciate our foster families and everything they do for our community. Currently, we have around 60 foster families who are licensed to provide care for children ranging in age from birth to 18 years.

This year we had planned several events to show our appreciation, have some family time, and connect with other foster families. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced us to put many of these events on hold. The agency is committed to helping make sure our foster families are appreciated and supported. While we won’t be gathering our foster families together in the coming months at water or trampoline parks as planned, the agency has delivered some family fun baskets to help everyone have some new and engaging things to do together as a family during this uncertain time when we’re all safer at home.

As part of Foster Care Awareness Month, the social work staff at Marathon County invites you to watch the video below to learn how much we value and appreciate all that our foster families do to help children and families right here in our local community.

To all our dedicated foster families, we say, THANK YOU!

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