With more Racine County children needing to be placed in foster care and fewer homes to place them in, the organizers of local nonprofit Faith, Hope, and Love want to fill a much-needed gap in service.
Heather Lojeski and her husband Mark Lojeski started Faith, Hope, and Love, a local nonprofit that helps children in crisis by offering duffle bags filled with personal and comfort items, in 2013. Now they want to take their mission a step further.
At a fundraiser held at Roma Lodge on Saturday, Heather said the organization wants to open a receiving home for the temporary placement of children waiting to be placed with a foster family. The plan: buy or rent a home for foster children so that the county can take the time it needs to find foster families that are a good fit. The receiving home also helps to relieve the burden on foster families by allowing them more time to prepare for children being placed. They can stay in the receiving home for up to 30 days.
Why is it needed?
“Because 1 in 5 children entering foster care is being sent to other counties for care,” Heather said. “Siblings are split up because there are not enough foster homes. Children entering foster care, wait hours at the foster care office while social workers are trying to find a suitable home. If the child could come straight to our home, it would give social workers more time to work and take off the stress.”
Addressing the need
The receiving home would be patterned after one in the state of Washington. Once operational, Faith, Hope and Love would provide the initial needs of the child, including medical care, shelter, and food. Volunteers would also help with homework and do meal preparation with the children.
“In the state of Washington, they proved that a home like ours, would actually create more foster homes (they went from 86 foster homes to 161 in 12 months), and they also proved that in most cases, if a caseworker had 72 hours; they could find a home that would be long-term and keep siblings together,” Heather said.
The nonprofit kicked off the capital campaign on Saturday and hopes to raise $25,000. The organization wants to open its doors by spring.
“We are looking to buy or rent, depending on location, cost, and how much we are able to raise,” she said.
Racine County needs more foster care families
When county officials have a child that needs a foster family, but they don’t have one in Racine County the child is placed in a different county. And that’s happening more often these days as more children are being removed from unsafe homes.
In 2014, the average number of children in foster care was 176 and there were 120 licensed homes. As of Oct. 31, the county had 366 children in foster care, a 40 percent increase, and 88 licensed homes, a 27 percent decrease.
The reason for the increase: The county has seen a surge in the number of parents with untreated mental health issues, and drugs and alcohol abuse, said Kerry Milkie, youth and family manager for Racine County.
“Drugs, in particular, the opioid epidemic has been the single biggest factor in the increase in our numbers,” she said.
According to the Department of Health Services, the rate of opioid prescription deaths in Racine County has increased to 15.3 per 1,000 residents in 2015 from 7.2, a 113 percent increase compared to the number in 2006. Hospital stays for patients encountering opioid issues in Racine County have also increased to 50.7 per 1,000 residents from 29.7, a 71 percent increase.
Foster care crisis carries a high price tag for taxpayers
Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave called the foster care shortage a crisis of “unparalleled proportions.”
“The county is only as strong as its nonprofits and faith-based entities,” Delagrave said. “If we do not have strong non-profits and faith-based entities, those services fall back to the county. And then our resources are stretched extremely thin. And then the quality of our services aren’t as good.”
The county has a tiered system of care, meaning that their first priority is to place a child in need with a family member in what is called kinship care. But if that’s not an option, they will place a child in foster care, a group home, treatment foster care or residential treatment foster care. But Delagrave pointed out that the child always has a better chance of success if they are placed with a family member or a foster care family, but not as high of success rate with group home or treatment foster care.
The costs associated with each solution vary greatly for Racine County taxpayers. Here’s the breakdown:
- Kinship care: $220/month
- Foster care: $350/month
- Treatment foster care: $2,000/month
- Group home: $3,000/month
- Residential care: $9,000/month
So if you have five children, the costs associated with their care are $45,000 and the success rate for those children isn’t as good, but if you have them placed in a foster care setting they are by and large with a family that cares about them, Delegrave said.
“The child is safe. They are going to school. They are getting good grades,” he said. “… Every child is one caring adult away from being a success story.”
A receiving home would help the county, Delagrave said.
“These receiving homes are not reimbursed by the state or federal government and the county does not have funds as well to fund one,” he said. “I think we would be one of the first to do it… and I think it would be a tremendous service to those children who are being removed from their homes.”
The next step for Heather and Faith, Hope and Love: raise at least $25,000 over the next 28 days, and rent or buy a building. If the group has to buy a building, they plan to raise an additional $200,000 for the home and capital improvement projects.