‘It’s had a big impact’: Pandemic adds another layer of challenge to fostering

MADISON, Wis. –The coronavirus doesn’t usually get children very sick, but it’s leaving a mark in another way.

In August 2019, Bethany and Nate Keiser of Prairie Du Sac opened their hearts and home to two foster siblings, joining their three biological children.

“We know no matter what’s going on in the world, it’s a transition and brings new challenges and opportunities,” Nate Keiser said.

Then about seven months later, the world closed down.

“It was really tough, especially for the first couple months,” he said.

It meant cancelled appointments, case manager visits reduced to phone calls and both treatment and school turned virtual.

“I sat all five kids around the table. I ran in circles trying to help them get their work done,” Bethany Keiser said. “The biggest change was there was no community anymore for us.”

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The Keisers foster through Community Care Resources, a Middleton-based private foster agency with a focus on children with trauma.

“Kids are still coming into care,” said Jane Halpin, recruit specialist for Community Care Resources. “Kids are still being abused and neglected, and that’s not slowing down.”

She said the treatment-level agency is “desperately searching” for families across Wisconsin and in Dane County to join them, especially those who can accept older children into their home.

Some of their foster parents aren’t accepting new placements because of the pandemic’s limitations, according to Halpin, and those who do face interruptions to in-person visits with biological families and therapy sessions than can stifle a child’s healing process.

“It’s had a big impact on foster care,” said Sarah Lawton, out-of-home care supervisor for Dane County Human Services. “If you can imagine children who need some sort of therapeutic services, having to do that virtually if it happens at all, that’s really, really difficult, especially for young children.”

Lawton said the pandemic is stacking on challenges to situations that are already stressful, while making some current and prospective foster parents for the county wary.

“Right now, we have about approximately 165 foster homes licensed in our county. That is probably one of the lowest numbers in several years,” she said, adding that their highest number put them at about 217 homes. “The pandemic has definitely impacted the number of applications for out-of-home care providers we’ve been receiving.”

Applications and homes being licensed are down, and foster homes have chosen to close because of COVID concerns, according to Lawton. But her unit takes safety precautions, including screening parents and children and providing PPE, and she said it’s as important as ever for people to open their doors to kids in need.

“Knowing it’s needed, knowing we can help other people out, it’s a good feeling,” Nate Keiser said.

He and his wife know it opened up their world.

“Our world got bigger and better, too,” Bethany Keiser said, adding that it was all well worth it. “It brought a lot of beauty.”

Those interested in fostering for Dane County, especially who can take in children 10 and older or sibling groups of any age, can visit this website or call 608-334-4417. Community Care Resources is seeking foster families as well. To learn more, visit this website.