In a neighborhood on the northwest side of Milwaukee, there’s a small village of Edwards’ family members. For starters, there’s grandpa, the patriarch; auntie the mother of four adoptive children; and then there are sisters, Skeeter and Lesa, both licensed foster parents through SaintA.
The Edwards’ family came to Milwaukee from Jamaica many years ago, but still have deep cultural roots. One tradition is togetherness.
Fostering Kids Side by Side
Skeeter and Lesa own a duplex, which they updated and remodeled together with the idea of raising foster children side by side. The two distinct units share a backyard and it’s not uncommon for Lesa’s foster daughter (age 7) to spend time at Skeeter’s, playing with her foster children, who are sisters ages 7 and 8.
Skeeter’s home still has many of its original Midwestern architectural details, but the living room is draped in bold Caribbean colors, a clear nod to their roots.
“We are the largest Jamaican family in Milwaukee,” says Lesa.
“Literally,” says Skeeter, who adds that she and her sister are just two of their father’s 11 children. “Dad’s family lives just around the corner and our auntie is nearby too. Her children have children now.”
It has been said it takes a village to raise a family and the Edwards’ are a prime example. Even when you consider cousins and other family members, nobody is more than eight minutes away.
A House Full of Children
“Growing up in Jamaica, we would see ads on TV talking about the need for foster parents,” Lesa says. “I have always wanted a house full of children.”
The sisters both believe in the circles of life, saying if they care for someone now, they know they will be cared for later.
According to their SaintA Licensing Specialist, Donna Mueller, Lesa has been a licensed foster parent for about a year and Skeeter just over a year. So far, Skeeter has cared for six children, including some emergency, short-term placements. Lesa has only had one placement so far and says that even though there are challenges, she and her foster daughter make great companions.
Family is Community
Whether it’s difficulty in school, trouble with friendships, or behavioral issues, it’s common for children in foster care to have trauma-related symptoms. “There are some challenges,” Lesa says, “But as foster parents, we can have an impact on these kids.”
One way Lesa and Skeeter handle challenges is to call upon their family. “Grandma’s house is the hub and we all help take care of each other’s children,” says Skeeter. “In our culture, family is community.”
The other place the Edwards’ sisters find support is through their SaintA Caregiver Support Specialists. They also consider their case managers and licensing specialist part of their child-raising village.
“The Edwards’ sisters are such a great example of our dedicated foster parents,” explains Mueller. “They are literally raising Milwaukee’s children, side by side, and their entire family is involved in the safety and well-being of these kids.”
Being Trauma Informed is Key
Both Skeeter and Lesa say they use their trauma informed care (TIC) training pretty regularly. “I know what to look for and understand why the kids act out sometimes,” says Skeeter. “The lower-brain training is especially useful for figuring out how to help regulate a child who is hurting or who has suffered a loss.”
She adds that TIC has helped her understand her foster children’s biological parents better, too. Lesa says of her sister: “She does a good job of co-parenting with the girls’ biological mom and includes her in parties and other gatherings whenever possible.”
“Coming from a big family is helpful because we are already accustomed to taking care of each other’s children – and one another.”
While their Jamaican heritage has played a role in their decision to be foster parents, the Edwards sisters believe anyone who is committed to nurturing children should consider it.
“There are kids out there to help,” says Skeeter. “When you think about the need, you can see what a difference you could make.”
To learn about becoming a foster parent, contact us at 855-GROW-HOPE or firstname.lastname@example.org.