La Crosse County trying new ways to fill foster care shortage


LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT)– La Crosse County continues to explore new ways to fill a need for foster care families. County officials and the families who have found success within the system are trying to bring in others.

It was the summer of 2012 when Bill Robbins and his wife wanted to expand the family.

“We saw it at that time as a chance to get involved in foster care,” said Bill Robbins, a foster parent.

Each case is different, but after their license was approved, they got a call just a few days later.

“It was real. It was surreal. And a week later, they’re like ‘Oh, he has a sister,'” Robbins said.

While the goal is to reunify the child with their parents or guardians, that wasn’t possible in this situation. Four years went by before they were able to adopt.

Now with four children, they continued to take on more kids in the foster care system because of the growing need for good homes.

“What we find is that when we have an increase in the kids who need care, we don’t always have an increase in a number of foster parents to take on the needs of the kiddos,” said Lila Barlow, foster care supervisor for La Crosse County.

Addiction to opioids and methamphetamine have created a  significant influx in children entering the system. The county is also seeing more children that need additional support.

La Crosse county officials have placed kids in homes sometimes two or three counties away, even across state lines. That leaves them far from their homes, families, and schools.

“So that’s where our crisis hits,” Barlow said.

The county needs about 40 homes to make the best possible matches for the child and families. That’s because not only are they trying to meet local needs, but helping other counties that are seeking homes for their needs.

“This is not just a La Crosse County issue,” Barlow said.

Officials have been working with the state, current or former foster families and other partners to find new ways to recruit and retain foster families. That includes families night out or foster family holiday party.

“What we are seeing is oftentimes foster homes need more support that we’re not able to offer. So we here in La Crosse have started a mentoring program,” Barlow said.

That way families can get different perspectives and advice from other people in similar foster situations. They’ve also hosted Q & A type events with people who used to be in the foster system and their families.

“Last summer we did some round table talks at the county libraries,” Robbins said.

One of the ways to get people interested and hopefully end the shortage is by having these advocates share their stories.

“To hear is actually from the source, will make an impact on you because it is life-changing,” Robbins said.

There are a variety of ways that people can get involved, including short term needs. If people find they need to take a step back from providing a foster home, that’s an option as well.

For more information on how to help, contact the La Crosse County Human Services Department at (608) 784- 4357.