Meet foster parent, Wade. Wade and his family live in rural Wisconsin and find many ways to stay busy including caring for their farm and cooking lots of delicious food.
Wade admits his journey to becoming a foster parent was less of a conscious choice and more of a natural chain of events. Wade describes his story of becoming a foster parent as something “he tripped into.”
His first experience as a foster parent was through providing kinship care. Kinship care is when a child enters foster care and is placed with biological relatives or people who are “like-kin,” meaning their relationship resembles that of a family member.
Wade and his girlfriend were raising 5 children together (two of his own and her 3 children) when they received a call asking them to take in the girlfriend’s teenage nephew.
From Hesitation to Commitment
Wade remembers being hesitant for many reasons. He had a full house of children to care for and didn’t know what it would be like to have another body in the home.
Wade was working a hectic schedule of 2 jobs over 12 hours a day. On top of that, the nephew looked intimidating on paper. The teenager was caring for himself, used to being out at all hours and making his own rules. Wade was surprised to find that once the young man got used to the structure of the household and understood that Wade was not giving up on him, things started to go well.
When Wade’s relationship with his girlfriend ended, the nephew moved out with her. However, the young man returned to Wade’s home two days later. The relationship they built was a landing place for the nephew, and he ended up living with Wade for 4 more years as he launched into adulthood.
After this experience caring for the nephew, Wade met former Family Works foster parent, Kathy, who introduced him to treatment foster care. Wade provided respite for many teenage boys she had in her home. The young men in her home were kids with significant trauma histories and behaviors that led to criminal charges.
Again the youth’s challenges appeared intimidating at first, but Wade was surprised to find that with structure and routine, the young men at Kathy’s made phenomenal progress. Kathy eventually convinced Wade to become a foster parent. Wade saw through her support and structure how she was able to make such a positive impact on youth. Kathy supported youth into paths of healing where they were given tools and structure to make more of their lives. (Foster families are still our greatest referral source! If you are a foster parent and know someone else who would be interested in joining Family Works, please consider making a referral.)
Wade was persuaded and initially agreed to try foster parenting for a year. Fourteen years later, Wade is still a foster parent and continues to provide a launching pad for teenage boys into adulthood.
Never a Dull Moment
Wade is a busy person. He and his family are active in all things agriculture, from caring for their farm to 4H. Their farm includes a variety of animals including sheep, beef cows, ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits and even an arctic fox!
Wade also works as a professional dog groomer. He spends a lot of time with his family which includes several adult children (two biological sons and two adopted), daughter-in-laws, grandchildren, foster youth and lots of extended family members that live nearby.
On top of that, he’s a single dad. Being able to successfully support youth as a single parent is one of Wade’s most proud parenting accomplishments. He shares,
“I’m proud of myself as a single parent to be able to pull this off….At the end of the day and when everyone’s in bed, I think to myself, I accomplished one more day.”
When children come to Wade’s home, he loves being able to include them in his life and hobbies. The kids stay busy learning many life skills on the farm and in the house. Wade enjoys sharing his cooking knowledge with the boys. In his books, nothing can top a great homemade meal.
Wade’s skill in cooking is widely known by his family and friends. As soon as fall weather settles in, Wade starts hearing from his grown kids and family members with requests for his homemade chicken noodle soup, a recipe that’s been passed down through several generations.
The boys in his home also take pride in what they learn and make with Wade. He shared that one of his kids will proudly invite guests in the home to try the food they make, whether it’s summer sausage or homemade pizza.
The pride the children feel and the looks on their faces are bound to make anyone’s day.
Community of Support
Wade acknowledges there are tough days where he relies on his community of support to step in. Fortunately, there are stable, caring adults he can rely on to look after his kids and provide respite when he needs to take a break. His friends and family also give back to the children in his home by being role models in the ways they have overcome challenges.
Another part of Wade’s team of support is his Family Works social worker and staff. Wade knows that the benefit of being at Family Works is that he can reach out to his social worker, or any staff member and find someone who will help. When he’s feeling stuck and needing support or answers, he finds it at Family Works. Wade stated,
“Someone could always help me find a way to get a solution. Someone is always willing to help or try…. You have an advocate there who can help you with stuff, navigating things like CANS [a system the counties use to determine stipends].”
Family Works also recognizes the hard work Wade is putting in to support kids. Family Works social worker Jack shares,
“Wade is a gentleman who provides and shares his rural living and extended family with foster children placed in his home. The young men placed with him benefit from his home making skills along with farming responsibilities. They learn that a man can cook and care for a farm and its live stock. Wade sets a good example as a single man and parent; he is competent, leads with heart and maintains the good structure where foster children can thrive. I enjoy working with Wade as he engages with the team to foster and improve the young men’s lives.”
Parenting through Highs and Lows
Wade is honest about his experience as a foster parent. Wade acknowledges the sadness of foster parenting can be just as present as the joy. Over time, he’s developed a process to move through the grief and loss that inevitably comes with having a child leave your home.
When a child leaves, under happy or tough circumstances, Wade shuts the child’s bedroom door and doesn’t let anyone go in. Wade waits until he is ready and spends several hours cleaning a child’s room. The process of cleaning helps him work through the feelings in a way that has become a cathartic ritual.
Tools like these are key to helping foster parents make it through and such a great model of coping for kids too.
Wade also believes that being able to model healthy relationships and communication is at the core of trauma-informed care. He models this with youth in his home by taking breaks when he’s upset, yet always returning later to discuss what happened. He shares that kids are often learning how to navigate these conversations when they first come to his home. The relationships that are built through these interactions have led youth to continue to return to Wade’s home over the years.
Over the years, Wade has encountered people who have judgements about youth in foster care and have stopped believing in kids. Wade now finds that when he hears other people expressing these beliefs, it makes him want to push even harder for the success of the children in his home. He challenges himself to dig deeper and find out how to meet each child’s particular needs.
He describes, “Each kid is like a puzzle and day by day you get to learn more about them and put the puzzle together.”
One of Wade’s key messages to children in his home is, “I want you to be the person who keeps trying.”
This message pays off over time.
One of his favorite things is watching youth graduate and move into adulthood. He’s been fortunate to see this happen many times over with teen boys in his home.
Every child deserves to have adults who believe in them and support them. Wade’s positive encouragement, belief in children, ability to teach life skills and model healthy relationships are some of the qualities Family Works greatly appreciates about Wade! We hope there continues to be many more success stories (and delicious homemade soups) in the years to come!
To hear more about what it’s like to be a foster parent, check out our other Featured Foster Family stories or join us for a virtual meet and greet.Apply to be a Foster Parent