At any given moment, thousands of kids in Milwaukee are in need of foster care.
Today, 88Nine is launching a new multimedia series — At the Threshold — meeting individuals on all sides of the foster care and adoption systems.
In episode one, we introduce you to case managers who ensure the safety of children and often must intervene when they are in danger.
In episode two, we meet Carlos, 17, who will soon “age out” of the foster care system.
In episode three, we learn that in order to understand those who have experienced trauma, we need to understand brain development.
In episode four, we meet Xavier, who entered the foster care system at birth and is now adopted to the parents who took him into their care.
In episode five, we meet Elijah, a young adult living in a housing development for those exiting “the system.” He lives there without issue for a few months, but eventually bad choices catch up with him and his life takes a sudden turn.
Click the or to view the next episode in the player.
Watch both episodes and listen to special extended audio stories below.
At The Threshold is supported by Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services.
Carlos grew up in Milwaukee. His dad was incarcerated, so his mother raised him and his siblings on her own. Throughout his life, he was was physically abused by her, and now that he has gotten a bit older, he is starting to remember the trauma he says she caused throughout his life. The worst of it happened when he was 14. He and his mother were setting up a fish tank together, and Carlos accidentally broke one of the pieces — the light that sits atop the tank. The police were called, and not long after, Carlos entered the foster care system. Child welfare officials determined his safety was at risk.
For three years, Carlos has bounced between multiple foster homes and even more caseworkers. But recently, he landed in a more permanent living situation. Charonne and Kevin Ganiere, residents of the Sherman Park neighborhood, took him in. They have a large, blended family, with two biological kids, three adopted kids, and now Carlos, their only foster child. He also has a much more stable and positive relationship with his current case worker, Katie Picago, from Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services.
Now 17, Carlos is on the cusp of “aging out” of the system. When he turns 18, he will exit foster care and enter the next phase of his life. There are resources he plans to tap into, but he knows his future is ultimately up to him. Inspired by Katie, he wants to become a social worker to help other young adults like him.
Xavier entered the system at birth. His mother’s life had become consumed by drugs and alcohol, and she was deemed unable to care for him by the State of Wisconsin. Immediately after entering the system, Xavier was cared for by his new foster parents, Mary and Adam Froehlich. The arrangement was meant to be temporary, while his biological mother was given one year to create a safe environment for Xavier.
That day never came.
After the year passed, Mary and Adam became his adopted parents. Now his legal guardians, they are immensely thankful to have their new son in their care, fully recognized by the state. They cannot imagine their lives without him.
Katie Picago, Family Case Manager
Katie is a case manager for Children’s Hospital Community Services. She says she felt a calling to pursue a career in child welfare, inspired by her own tumultuous relationship with her mother as a child.
But it wasn’t her first career. Before becoming a case manager, she spent time in the military working as a drill instructor, and she also served with Corps of Engineers building and demolishing bridges. She says her experience in the armed forces, made her a more well-rounded person with a knack for order and discipline, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as her current work. But being a case manager might be just as — if not more — stressful than the military.
Don’t get her wrong, she loves her job, but she says from an emotional perspective, it’s taxing. Operating at her own threshold and juggling dozens of life-or-death cases, Katie says as a mother of two young children, she works hard to not bring the stress of the job into her own home.
Elijah is living in his first apartment. For most of his childhood, he had a positive relationship with his adoptive mother, but he did not meet his biological mother until the age of 14.
When he was 16, Elijah got in trouble with the law, then again less than a year later. He did some time in the juvenile detention center, then, after pleading guilty, went to a Milwaukee-area treatment center for troubled youth. Things started to improve there, and he was discharged in the minimal amount of time required by the court. He went on to complete high school.
But the relationship with his adopted mother soured while he was away, and when he got back, she made it clear he would need to find another place to live. He wouldn’t be living with her.
Enter Journey House.
He got connected with a transitional housing program there, eventually moving into his own apartment with assistance from the community organization. He lived in one of its campus housing units, without any problems, for nearly 6 months. He was setting money aside for his next apartment.
Elijah’s life was going better than it had in years.
But with the new freedom came an equal amount of temptation. And trouble would strike again.
Eventually, he was asked to leave.
What’s next? Elijah would tell you, it’s up to him.