EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – If you’ve ever thought about opening your home to a foster child, now is the time to act.

With more children in need of a place to stay than homes available, Eau Claire County is recruiting foster parents.

First News at Nine’s Carla Rogner shares the experience of one foster parent.

The Department of Human Services does its best to place children at homes within the county to keep them in their school districts and close to family and friends. However, as the county deals with a shortage of foster families, DHS has had to send kids to other areas of the state.

“When we have to place kids across the state, they are not only going into a strange environment where they know no one, they are losing most of their connections and there are typically a lot of barriers to driving three hours to visit a youth for an hour or a weekend and so keeping them here is extremely important for their future success,” said Melissa Christopherson, a Social Work Manager for Eau Claire County.

153 kids are currently in care in Eau Claire County. Because of the pandemic, DHS was unable to recruit many families over the last year, leading to the shortage.

The county especially needs families to foster older kids ages five to 18. Though families typically want to host younger children, but Sirissa Kromenaker, a Youth Justice Social Worker for the county, explains there are many benefits to fostering older kids and teenagers.

“There are a lot of fun thing about working with that population if you can see beyond what a pain-based behavior might look like from the beginning and then dig deeper into what these kids may have been through,” Kromenaker said. “They can eat on their own, dress on their own, they are funny, they can have a sense of humor and have real conversations.”

Nic Ashman and her partner Erek Sandoval have fostered children in Eau Claire County since 2016, after both living with foster families as kids themselves.

“I would say it isn’t any different from having your own kids. When it comes down to it they need food, shelter, love, someone that is going to support them, provide positive guidance in their interactions,” Ashman said. “You are really trying to show them how the world can be outside the situations that they come from while still maintaining healthy relationships with those people that are still part of their lives.”

They’ve hosted kids ages 9 months old to 18.

“Older kids are able to tell you what they do and do not like, what their boundaries are. In most cases with older kids, it is the same as with any teen. You are looking at teaching them how to be accountable for their actions, making safe decisions as well as limitations they might not be used to,” Ashman said.

Though it can be hectic at times, she says providing foster care has given her a new perspective and she recommends it to anyone with a loving home and an open heart.

“The amount of laughter, the amount of connection I feel with these kids because of my own personal backstory, the way I am able to take that and turn it into something positive by providing guidance to help them cope with some of the situations they are going through,” she said.

The county offers resources to children in foster care as well as foster families to help ease the transition, like therapy, counseling, and even child care.

When kids enter foster care, the county works to first place children with family members before reaching out to foster families with the goal of eventual reunification with parents.

In Eau Claire County, Carla Rogner, First News at Nine

People interested in learning more about becoming a foster parents should attend a virtual informational meeting on July 13 from 6 to 7 p.m. Later informational meetings are scheduled for September 14 and November 9. To RSVP, contact Christa Dutter at 715-839-6923 or Christa.Dutter@co.eau-claire.wi.us.

Eau Claire County is hosting an informational session next month for people thinking about becoming foster parents. The meeting will be virtual.