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‘It changed everything:’ Pandemic impacts Child Protective Services, foster care

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DANE COUNTY (WKOW) -- The pandemic has taken a toll on Child Protective Services in Wisconsin and the new trends are worrisome to state officials.

For the Fishers, inviting children into their home was never a question. But how that would happen didn't play out until four years ago.

"We just had a heart for adoption and fostering," said Rachel Fisher.

Rachel and her husband, Rob, went through the foster certification process and almost immediately took in a little boy.

"We were kind of blow away right away that we're going to have a placement," Rachel remembered.

And it didn't stop there. Another child was sent to live with them through the Dane County Foster Care program.

"You go through this whole list of maybe everything you need or what's going to happen and how kids are going to adjust to another kid coming in and sharing their room that night," Rachel said.

And then, the pandemic hit southern Wisconsin and more adjusting was required,

"It changed everything right away when they closed everything down," said Rachel. "So visits were stopped right away, all in-person contact with social workers were stopped right away."

The foster children weren't able to see their birth parents for a stretch of time and just like other families, foster parents had to take on childcare 24/7.

"Everything is a bit more complicated during the pandemic, but I think kind of like anything you're just gonna have to be willing to adjust and adapt," Rob commented.

Some foster families couldn't, and ended up turning away kids. But that wasn't the only concern to the Department of Children and Families.

"Placements in foster care are down, just like the rest of the child protection system really has seen a sort of decrease during COVID," said Wendy Henderson, child welfare director with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.

Henderson told 27 News at its peak, child protective services reports in Wisconsin were down about 60 percent in 2020 compared to the year before.

"The numbers are lower for a number of reasons, that first and foremost, the child protection reports are down because many of the people who interact with children on a regular basis haven't been seeing those kids over the past year," Henderson said.

She admits the drop in reports has been concerning to the department, and beyond.

"There's national concern," she said. "And how do we make sure that kids are safe"

Henderson said while the numbers were lower, child protective workers never stopped doing their jobs, continuing to check up on children.

Since many children have returned to the classroom in person, reports have started to level off.

As for the Fishers, their lives have certainly gotten busier, but they wouldn't change a thing.

Since they started their foster journey they have already adopted one of their foster kids and they said they're open to whatever lies ahead.

"It's a great thing and I think it's an amazing way to have a positive impact on the child's life," said the Fishers.

Dane County Foster Care is in need of more families. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about the program, click HERE to get started.

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Rebecca Ribley

Wake Up Wisconsin Anchor

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