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Filling the gaps: Vilas County foster care network grows stronger with additional support programs

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Opening your home to a child in the foster care system is far from easy.

“We like to say it's the toughest job you'll ever love,” said Vilas County Social Services Director Kate Gardner.

Educating families, the emotional toll, and financial strain can all keep people from becoming foster parents.

Despite the challenges, Gardner says the county has a strong foster care network.

“I think the reason that we do have that is because we provide a lot of support for our foster parents,” said Gardner.

That support comes in a lot of different forms.

Gardner says they apply for a lot of grants to help pay for things like a teen getting their driver’s license or buying sports equipment or even running things like the Foster Parent Closet for families to get clothing and other items.

The state does provide some financial support to foster families, but depending on the time of month the child is placed with the family, it can be several weeks before they see that first check.

“We don't really have any other discretionary funds, where we could say, well, ‘Here's the money to tide you over,’” said Gardner.

To help fill that gap, Feed Our Rural Kids is expanding its FORK NOW program starting July 1st to support foster families.

FORK NOW already provides nutritional assistance in emergency situations.

FORK President Perry Pokrandt says this expansion fits in well with their mission.

“We saw it as a gap just as clearly as if a parent passed away, a child was ill in the household, [or] loss of a job. It was a financially challenging time and food sometimes was the price that the child paid,” said Pokrandt.

It will be for children that are placed with foster families within the Northland Pines, Phelps, and portions of the Three Lakes School Districts.

The child will receive four $25 grocery vouchers that can be used at local grocery stores. The voucher will stay with the child, even if they’re placed in different homes during that time.

Pokrandt says it should cover roughly a meal a day for the first month.

“That way, we're at least providing a helping hand. It's not everything that a family may need in certain circumstances, but at least it's a step forward,” he said.

Gardner calls the voucher program a godsend.

She says programs like this and all the other support they’re able to provide families is why they’re able to retain foster parents and have a strong foster care network.

“It's really nice when we can bring together seasoned foster parents who've done this for a while and have dealt with kids that have dealt with trauma and know how to guide and advise the new parents,” said Gardner. “That's a real advantage, I think, to retaining the foster parents that we're bringing in.”

Gardner says they had about two foster parents seven years ago. Right now, two more families are going through the licensing process which will bring them up to 24 foster families.

There are currently 50 children in the Vilas County foster system.

Gardner says they’re always looking for more foster families. If you’re interested, she recommends calling the Vilas County Social Services Office at 715-479-3668.

You can learn more about FORK and the services it offers on its website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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