Meet our foster parent, Rick. He and his crew of teenage boys live in western Wisconsin, near LaCrosse. There’s never a dull moment at their house as they stay busy camping, fishing, hiking and golfing.
Rick has always been drawn to the world of helping others. As a young child, Rick’s mom passed away, and his father wasn’t emotionally available. Rick identifies school social workers as the key people who helped him make it through his childhood years. As a teenager, Rick supported himself, working full-time and going to high school. He had hopes to be a social worker someday, but his career took him in a different direction.
After a divorce, Rick found his opportunity to give back. He was a single-dad of a five year old boy and looking for a way to make a difference in the lives of other children. In his divorce, he lost two step-children and knew he had it in his heart to care for more children.
This was how he came to the world of foster care.
Becoming a foster parent is a big decision, and like many people Rick was hesitant at first. His son, Hayden, was 9 when Rick began to foster with Family Works. The first child who arrived at their home was a 15 year old boy. The teen came for respite. Rick shared that as a parent, he had a lot of concerns about what fostering would mean for his son. Would his son be negatively impacted by foster care? What would happen to their family as a result?
Flash forward to the present day, Hayden is in college and recently wrote an essay about the most impactful experience in his life. What did he write about? Foster care.
Over the years, Rick and Hayden found that foster care has given so much more to their family than he could have imagined.
Rick and Hayden recently counted and were astounded to find that between respite and foster care 38 children have come to their home. Throughout the years, Rick’s family has focused on supporting teenage males. The journey has not always been easy, but Rick found that open communication with his son helped them weather the highs and lows. Together, they would talk about how fostering was impacting their lives and would make sure that children that came to their home fit with their family.
Rick is a proponent of structure and teaching the children in his care life skills. Children in his home share in the household chores. This also gives them the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons for keeping up a house. Rick has several side businesses. He runs a group home for adults and has recently begun to work in cleaning houses. He and the boys in his home clean and do yard work for homes that are for sale.
On weekends during the summer, everyone pitches in to take care of the house and pack up the car. The family then heads off to camp. In the wilderness, the boys get the freedom to hike, explore, fish and have bonfires.
When they’re not camping, the family is connecting in the kitchen. The age-old phrase, “the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach” holds true at Rick’s house. He and the boys at his home spend quality time together each day over meals. It’s their time to connect with one another and process the day. When the opportunity allows, they also go out to celebrate for a yummy meal. Pizza and burgers are favorites at their household.
Throughout his 11+ years as a foster parent, Rick has found the key to success lies largely with his team of support. The community that wraps around Rick and the youth in his home includes key friends, mentors, therapists and Family Works staff. Rick shares it has taken several years to truly build up his team, but now that he’s identified these key players, they’re invaluable to his family.
Meet the dream team. Dan is the mentor who takes the boys out into the community and teaches them to golf, bowl and fish. Dan builds a relationship with the boys while providing Rick with a break each week. Mark is the therapist who meets kids where they’re at and builds a quick rapport. His unique approach engages children in therapy while doing activities they love. The therapeutic work occurs outside the confines of an office and in the midst of everyday life. Curt is the Family Works social worker who pushes Rick to continue to grow and has his back in tough moments. Each team member plays an invaluable role in the success of each child.
With his team, Rick knows he’s not left to parent on his own. Rick admits this community didn’t form overnight. He slowly built it over time. As a foster parent and single dad, Rick shares that his community continues to pull through in a crunch. Whether it’s a friend who can stop by to give him a 10 minute break or an even longer weekend break, the times he gets respite are essential.
This self-care has been crucial to his well-being and provided him with the energy to persevere as a foster parent. Rick shares that Prudent Parenting has allowed him to feel more comfortable taking breaks and bringing in community supports for his children. Prudent parenting is a newer foster care policy that allows foster parents to make choices for kids that promotes normalcy. He explains that he has come to learn, “You have to trust others with kids. It’s not just me. It’s okay. The more people you put into their lives the more they succeed.”
Tricks of the trade?
Through his years as a foster parent, Rick continues to learn new ways to connect with youth in his home. Foster parenting challenges him to come up with creative parenting strategies from one moment to the next. Over the years, he’s learned different ways to diffuse a tense situation with a joke or changing the topic of conversation spontaneously.
One tried and true technique to connect with youth is to give each child the opportunity to start fresh when they arrive in your home. When a new child arrives at the home, Rick has a conversation with the child. Many youth have been in multiple homes before arriving at Rick’s home. He opens the door for the child by saying, “Let this be your last stop. I’m sorry this happened to you. This isn’t your fault, and it’s not mine.” Rick’s hope is that his home can be the last stop for the child before finding permanency beyond foster care.
Finally, Rick shares that Family Works has offered him the support he needed in critical moments. His sense of trust with Family Works is critical to his success. Without this support, Rick believes he would have given up long ago. Rick shares that Family Works support “has encouraged him to make the decision that was best for him or the child.”
We’re certainly fortunate Rick and his family’s support has touched the lives of 38 children. We hope there are more to come in the future!
If you’re like Rick and looking for that opportunity to share your heart and home with more children, reach out to our staff today to get started on becoming a foster parent.Apply to be a Foster Parent