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Giving children something to hold onto

From left, Brittany Johnson and Laura Halvorsen Fregard with Douglas County Health and Human Services get a fresh infusion of Sweet Cases from Superior Middle School eighth graders Armella Lane, Sara Schaeffer and Gabby Siers June 5. The cases will be given to children entering foster care. (Maria Lockwood)

The number of children entering foster care in Douglas County is on the rise.

“To put it in perspective, as of April of this year we have filed 40 CHIPS petitions (for court-ordered child protective care or services),” said Laura Halvorsen Fregard, an intake and assessment worker with the Douglas County Health and Human Services Department. “In 2012, for the whole year, we filed 26 and in 2017 for the whole year we filed 82. This year through April we have 40.”

As of April, the county had 93 open, ongoing cases involving 135 children who have been identified as needing ongoing safety services, according to Brittany Johnson, Douglas County foster care coordinator.

“Currently, 108 children in Douglas County are in out of home care,” Halvorsen Fregard said.

The cause for the rise can’t be laid on one cause, although substance abuse continues to be a contributing factor.

“When individuals and families struggle with other factors that have always been issues in Child Protective Services such as domestic violence, mental health and appropriate parenting and you add in the substance abuse, it makes all issues more complex and harder to move toward positive change,” said Doreen Wehmas, intake and assessment supervisor.

For the last two years, children entering foster care have been presented with a Sweet Case. The fabric bags were purchased and packed with care by eighth grade students in Superior Middle School’s red wing.

“They have that personal touch,” Johnson said. “It’s not just a bag. They come with a teddy bear and a blanket and a coloring book and crayons, and I think a toothbrush, toothpaste, and we have clothing we can add to that, too.”

Halvorsen Fregard said children often enter foster care with nothing from home.

“Sometimes that’s all they leave with, that bag and anything we put in it,” Johnson said.

The initial batch of 62 Sweet Cases, donated in 2016, has dropped to two.

“They all went with kids of all ages,” Johnson said. “It’s been really nice to have.”

This year’s eighth graders provided a fresh infusion of 49 bags last week, prompted by English teacher Amanda Lindquist and their desire to make a change in the community.

“I have a personal connection to this,” said eighth-grader Gabby Siers. “I just feel like this is a very good cause.”

It gives a child in transition an actual bag to put their most valuable things inside, instead of a garbage bag.

“I feel like that just means more from the heart,” Siers said. “Saying that people still care for you; you’re not alone.”

The eighth graders made and sold blankets, held a hat day at the school and secured a number of grants to purchase the Sweet Cases. They spent time adding their own artwork and letters to the bags.

“I said ‘You’re very important to me, and I hope this bag gives you the things that you need,’” said eighth grader Armella Lane.

Students have been quick to embrace the Sweet Cases project.

“There’s always a couple each year who have been in foster care or are currently in foster care or have a connection to foster care, and because of that connection, they have an interest in it,” Lindquist said. “They want to make a difference.”

They do.

“Just in general when kids get a duffle bag that they can call their own, and they see that there’s a teddy bear, you know, stuffed animal in there that’s a comfort animal for them, it generally tends to brighten a very traumatic experience,” Halvorsen Fregard said. “It’s something tangible that they can have.”

The need for foster parents is increasing with the rise in child protective services cases.

“We’re always in need of families that can open their homes for sibling groups and older children 10 and up,”Johnson said. “And just in general, always in need of more.”

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, call (715) 395-1304 and ask for Johnson or the access social worker or visit dcf.wisconsin.gov/fostercare/parent.

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