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Thousands of children in southeastern Wisconsin are stuck in a fragile system of foster care where siblings are split up and the need is so great that many children have been shipped to homes out of the county.
Wind Point resident and documentary filmmaker Joey Papa partnered with Heather Lojeski, director of Faith Hope and Love, to understand the issue. Now he wants to document the problem. Papa started an online fundraiser Tuesday to help fund a 20 to 25 minute short film. He hopes to raise $25,000 and start filming it in January.
The crisis: That there are more children being added to the foster care system, but not enough foster parents to care for them.
“There are some projects that you end up pursuing and there are other times where the project pursues you,” Papa said. “I just started becoming more familiar with the foster care system and learning about the crisis that most of the country is in, but our area particularly. The more that I would learned, the more devastated I became.”
What catapulted Papa’s interest was learning that so many people think that foster kids are being taken care of… when they are not.
“It’s easier to think that it’s being taken care when it isn’t,” he said.
So How Bad is the Foster Care Problem?
Racine County placed over 400 children and youth in out-of-home care: including residential, group homes, foster care and treatment foster care) in 2015. Of these placements, 316 were placed in foster and treatment foster care. But there just aren’t enough homes to place them in. Racine County had 113 licensed foster homes (regular and treatment) in 2015. That meant that Racine County used 43 foster homes located out of county, which costs about $75,000 annually.
Kerry Milkie, manager of the Youth and Family Division at the Racine County Human Services Department, said the foster care need is a symptom of a larger problem: Parents’ drug and alcohol use. Racine County is considered a DEC, or drug endangered children, county. That means that the county partners with law enforcement officials when they conduct search warrants when they know children are present around drugs and weapons.
“Our biggest shortage for foster care is for the older kids,” Milkie said. “If we have sibling and no relatives to care for them, the likelihood ofthem getting split up is 100 percent. And at some point, if we’re full and don’t have a place for them here in Racine County… We’re looking for out of county placements.
“It just makes everything harder.”
Over the summer, Racine County had five or six placements to do within a two to three week period of time because the parents of the children were using heroin. But Milkie said it’s difficult to find foster parents because it’s not easy to ask people take in children and treat them like your own, then give them back to their parents.
“There’s a whole grieving process when kids are removed… it’s just hard,” she said. “Not everyone is designed in that way to go through that.”
But Milkie hopes the film will bring awareness to the issue.
Faith Hope And Love Directors Offer Insight
Heather Lojeski and her husband Mark started Faith Hope and Love two years ago as a labor of love because they are foster parents.
When children would arrive, they often came with a trash bag full of their belongings. The Lojeski’s spend 60 to 80 hours a week volunteering their time to provide duffel bags filled with supplies and comfort items to children in the foster care system, children whose parents are incarcerated, and children who are human trafficking victims.
“Imagine you are 7 years old, removed from your home, handed a trash bag and given 5 minutes gather your personal belongings. How would you feel, being handed a trash bag for your belongings?” Heather said.
When Heather met with Papa, she always thought a documentary would help unify the community around the problem.
“Joey has an amazing and creative mind,” she said. “He takes problems in our community and gives them a voice and he can create impact that speaks volumes. I’m really excited to see where this film will take this issue and see how solutions will come from this film.”
Symptom of a Larger Problem
Papa wants to have the film released in early spring. The hope is that a network television station would air the 20 to 25 minute show for free air time. They also hope to build sponsorship opportunities around the issue to help continue the conversation and build a platform for the conversation to continue.
Papa also feels the project could be tailored to a number of communities across the country.
“We also want to build a platform where — even if someone doesn’t want to foster — that they can still find ways to support people that are. We want to help them to make fostering be successful,” Papa said.
If you want to make a donation to the Kickstarter campaign, click on the link: Foster Care Crisis