In a small town in central Wisconsin, there’s a quaint neighborhood leading up to a cul-de-sac; it’s lined with little houses that all look the same. There’s one house, though, that is special.
Inside, the wood-paneled walls are saturated with antique trinkets and the windowsills are lined with sprawling plants. The house is charming and cozy and belongs to Susan, a SaintA licensed foster parent.
Upon closer inspection, one thing that makes this home different from all the others is the addition on the back of the house. It includes two extra bedrooms, a ramp and an accessible bathroom for the two boys in wheelchairs who live here.
“I like taking care of children with medical needs,” says Susan, a nurse by trade and caregiver by nature.
Originally from North Dakota, Susan grew up on a farm with goats and horses. She went to New York for nursing school, got married, moved to Milwaukee and settled back into life in the Midwest. She was told she couldn’t have kids but ended up having five biological children. When her marriage ended, she moved to Wausau to continue fostering.
In her training as a nurse, Susan learned patience above all else. She also became a pro at spotting and handling medical problems. When one of her boys ate a spoon, when others experience seizures or are hooked up to life support, she knows exactly what to do.
Never Easy, but Always Worth It
Before she worked with kids, Susan was a caregiver for adults who often couldn’t complete basic tasks, like brushing their teeth or getting dressed. It was then that she began to wonder if she would like to work with children, providing guidance while they were still young and helping them succeed before they become adults.
“It makes me feel good being a foster mom,” she says.
Still, it isn’t easy.
Treatment Foster Care
Susan has had foster kids who’ve gone through unspeakable traumas. As a result, one became violent and another experienced terrible seizures. “God made him so he wants to shake, rattle and roll,” she told her daughter, who didn’t understand what was happening. “I had him here for many years, until the number of seizures required care from a medical facility.”
SaintA TFC Specialist Katelyn Smith works with families across central Wisconsin. She says it takes a lot of patience, which Susan has, and open and honest communication, which Susan also takes part in.
“Susan makes it look easy. It’s amazing the relationship she has with the boys,” Katelyn says during a recent home visit.
Treatment Foster Care parents are licensed to care for children who have been exposed to significant trauma, such as abuse and neglect and need substantial support to address their needs. TFC licensing begins at Level 3. As a Level 4 foster parent, Susan is equipped to provide a high level of care and receives specialized training based on the specific needs of her kids.
She’s also surrounded by a team of physicians, a psychiatrist, an occupational therapist, a dietitian, SaintA staff and respite workers.
Learn more about Treatment Foster Care throughout Wisconsin.
A Bond Like No Other
When Anthony, who was recently adopted , first came to her, all he did was scream. He came from a group home and Susan could tell what he needed most wasn’t medical or behavioral intervention; it was hugs and affection.
“My kids are nonverbal but in a way they are verbal. They can talk, they make loud noises,” she says. “The boys will sing back and forth to each other.”
Susan has always been a caregiver for her siblings, at work and for her biological and foster children.
“It’s your calling,” Katelyn says.
Susan smiles and says, “It must be. I’ve been doing this my whole life.”