Featured Foster Family: Gary and LeAnn

Meet foster parents, Gary and LeAnn. They are passionate about foster care and especially love caring for teenage girls. They’re a unique family made up of 3 generations of foster parents (LeAnn’s parents and their adult daughter and son-in-law have all fostered!) Gary and Leann   At the age of 50, LeAnn had to suddenly retire from a fast-paced career she loved as a clinic manager. She quickly became bored without a job to go to everyday and asked herself, “What am I going to do with my life? What has purpose?” LeAnn’s parents fostered children for over 20 years, and in retiring, LeAnn realized it was time for her to join this cause and become a foster parent. Gary agreed, and they became licensed in 2006. Since then, LeAnn and Gary have supported 18 young women in their home. They chose to specialize in fostering teen girls. After raising two adult daughters, they realized they had a unique talent for parenting teenage girls, and really enjoyed it too.
“I adore teenage girls and think they’re very, very fun. They have a lot of wisdom and like to be a part of gatherings when you let them.” ~LeAnn
This also matched a strong need in the foster care community. Teenagers are far less likely to be placed in a foster home compared to youth 12 and below. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, only 58% of foster teens live with a family, compared with 95% of kids 12 and under. There is a shortage of foster homes for teenagers not only in Wisconsin, but throughout our nation.  Learn more about the need for foster homes for teenagers.

Creating a home for teens to thrive

LeAnn and Gary work together to create a therapeutic and empowering environment for the young women who enter their home. Leann with dog LeAnn believes in helping the teen girls in her care learn to be strong, independent women. They also understand the importance of working closely with their foster children’s biological families and how beneficial this is to the children in their home and the family as a whole. LeAnn creates the structure in the home and stays on top of the necessary paperwork and appointments. She develops close relationships with the young women by building their trust slowly over time. Gary complements LeAnn’s style by being a calm grounding force and bringing humor to the home. When the house energy becomes tense, Gary will take the girls in the home for 4-5 mile walks outside. He then teaches them about nature while hiking and exploring their community. Gary in the woods, waving This has become such an effective coping tool for the young women that they can now identify when it’s “time to take a walk.” The family also enjoys hiking, fishing and exploring Wisconsin. Together their parenting has helped countless girls achieve their goals. Gary shares that he is most rewarded as a foster parent by, “Seeing the children achieve. Most come here and didn’t go to school, wouldn’t go to school, way behind in credits.” He’s witnessed youth “achieve and focus on their education” which includes focusing on college or reserves or experiencing academic success for the first time.

Social worker’s perspective

Family Works Social Worker Melissa shares,
“I would say they do a phenomenal job working with biological parents and LeAnn is on the phone basically every day with one of the kids’ parents or grandparents or siblings. ~Melissa, Family Works Social Worker
They do a great job of promoting normalcy for the girls, too. She will buy them prom dresses, get their nails done, involve them in track or basketball and give them money to spend on concessions or whatever during basketball games, spoils them on birthdays and Christmas.
I think one of the most therapeutic things about this foster home is how authentic they both are. When they make a mistake or get emotional they own it, apologize and move on. LeAnn models appropriate emotions and cries when she is sad and goes to her bedroom to cool down when she is mad or calls me to vent, etc. They let things go and start each day as a new day and do not hold grudges when a kid makes a mistake.” ~Melissa, Family Works Social Worker

Advice for trauma-informed parenting

Being a foster parent requires you to adopt a new style of parenting. LeAnn wants those considering foster care to know the following words of advice:
“One of the most important things I’ve learned is that each one needs something different. The biggest hurdle is figuring out what they need. I like a challenge….. [To figure out] What does that kid need from us? What are we here to give this child? It’s also what can be incredibly frustrating. When they struggle so badly and you can’t reach them. I have to remember that you can’t reach them all. You’ve got to meet them where they’re at.” “Kids in care are no different from any other child. They need love, boundaries and consistency.” “Other secret: you don’t need to talk about things to death. Oh that happened and then it’s done. Give a consequence and it’s done.” “The most important thing that we were given was a great education in trauma-informed care. Even if this feels strange or different, it’s important to parent children in foster care with trauma-informed approach.”
LeAnn and Gary emphasized that trauma-informed parenting laid the foundation for understanding youth who endured tough life experiences and creating a home environment that can endure the highs and lows of foster parenting. For youth who have experienced the chaos of trauma, having grounded parents and a stable home is especially important. (Check out our resources page to find our recommended resources for understanding trauma and trauma-informed care.) LeAnn and Gary’s experience, enthusiasm, communication skills and ability to care for teen girls are just a few of the reasons we appreciate them! Family Works hopes to support their work for years to come! Apply to be a Foster Parent