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Wisconsin Foster Parent Licensing Levels: A Primer

Level 2 vs Level 3 Comparison

True or false: No two kids are alike. When it comes to children in foster care, there has rarely been a truer statement.

That’s because children enter out-of-home care for a variety of reasons and in various stages of their childhood journeys. What all foster children do have in common, however, is that they have experienced maltreatment – and possibly, some degree of trauma.

Licensing levels depend on children’s needs

The 1, 2, 3, 4s of Foster Parent Licensing

In Wisconsin, foster care licensing is set up by levels – most commonly Levels 1-4 – to ensure foster parents are properly equipped to support the kids in their care.

  • Level 1: With relatives of children needing out-of-home care
  • Level 2: Basic foster care for kids with minimal physical, behavioral and emotional issues
  • Level 3 (statewide): For children who have been exposed to moderate trauma such as abuse and neglect and need more support to address their physical, behavioral and emotional needs
  • Level 4 (statewide): For children who have been exposed to extensive trauma such as physical or sexual abuse and have a much higher level of need
  • Specialized Treatment Foster Care (for child victims of sexual exploitation)

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“Children who have been exposed to maltreatment often have minimal to moderate physical, behavioral and emotional needs. To care for them, a family needs to be licensed as Level 2,” explains Michelle Keller, SaintA Community Outreach Specialist.

Kids placed in Level 2 homes may struggle to adjust to their new living environment or have certain triggers. But, with consistency and the right support, they can flourish.

“Children who have been exposed to significant trauma, such as abuse or neglect, have a higher need for cognitive, behavioral or – or even, medical – support,” continues Keller. “This requires a Level 3 license.”

A Level 4 home is similar to Level 3, but requires additional training to help support foster parents in caring for children who have been exposed to extensive trauma.

Becky Connell, SaintA Statewide Director of Treatment Foster Care adds, “Because of past trauma, treatment foster care children are likely to react to common situations in some very unique ways.” These reactions may be challenging, but with the right support, love and stability from their foster parents, improvements can be made.

Comparing and contrasting Level 2 and Level 3

The biggest difference in licensing requirements is between Levels 2 and 3. Read this side-by-side Level 2 versus Level 3 comparison. It will walk you through the basics, the necessary qualifications, training requirements and some examples of cases.

It’s common for children to enter foster care at Level 2, but if their assessments show a higher need, they may move to a Level 3 home. “To put it in perspective, Level 2 parents are required to complete 9 hours of training prior to a placement, while Level 3 parents have to complete about four times that many hours of training to be ready for a placement,” says Keller.

All foster parents receive training and support

The foster parent journey begins with orientation and continues with training, licensing and continuing education.

“We emphasize providing services in a trauma informed manner, which helps ensure the well-being of the children and families we serve,” says Connell. “These are topics we promote when talking with individuals and families who are interested in learning about being licensed with SaintA.”

In addition, foster parents learn very quickly about the court system, licensing requirements and the specific needs of children in their care. “Foster parents make a huge commitment to children who need them,” says Keller. “We provide extensive and relevant training and are always available to support the family before, during and after placement.”

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, talk to a Community Engagement Specialist today by calling 855.GROW.HOPE or emailing