Foster care needs on the rise as parents with addiction, mental health issues increase

There are currently more than 190 children in out-of-home foster care right now in La Crosse County.

That’s about 10 more kids than at this time last year, and 80 more than seven years ago.

Along with the increase in foster care needs, La Crosse County foster care officials have seen an increase in drug addiction and mental health issues in parents.

They can’t say it’s a direct cause, but there is that correlation, and working with families dealing with these issues adds extra challenges for foster parents.

Kevin Arndt of West Salem officially became a foster parent in January. He and his wife have welcomed a 2- and 4-year-old into their family.

“We love kids,” he said. “I want to be involved because I know there’s a big need.”

Hours of training to be a foster parent couldn’t prepare him for everything.

“It’s something you’re not prepared for, especially when you know all of the abuse and things that could happen,” Arndt said.

“Many foster parents are surprised on the level of addiction that parents come in at, combined with mental health illnesses they’re seeing,” said Lila Barlow, Permanency Resource Unit supervisor with La Crosse County.

Barlow said she’s noticed a trend.

“Not only drugs and alcohol addiction, but also mental health struggles and trauma that parents and children have, have all increased, and that combination has really spiked foster care placements over the years,” she said.

Barlow said she can’t say drug addiction and mental health issues are directly increasing foster care needs, but there is that correlation.

“It would make sense,” she said.

From an average of 113 kids in foster care in 2009 to an average of 180 in 2016, the need for foster homes is on the rise.

“We could probably increase our foster homes by a good 50 percent and still have some needs,” she said.

With that need for foster homes is a need for foster parents experienced in working with families with addiction and mental health issues

“It’s definitely a struggle,” Barlow said.

“There are a lot of struggles,” Arndt said.

As a foster parent, Arndt knows firsthand the difficulty of raising children with extra needs.

“A 2 year old, even an infant, will show signs of trauma and signs of what they go through,” he said.

Even though he says being a foster parent can get a little overwhelming, “In the long run, it’s worth it.”

There are currently 118 foster parents in La Crosse County, and the county is always looking for more.

Barlow said they’re also searching for those willing to provide respite homes, which are homes that take in foster kids on weekends so foster parents can have a break.

For more information on getting involved with respite homes or foster care, you can visit this website.