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Greg Peters column: Maybe you can positively impact the life of a child

Greg Peters

Middle school can be tough, but going to middle school when you have autism can be like going to war with a Nerf gun when most everyone else has a cannon.

"She was all smiles when she came home last week because she got asked to the dance by a boy," said Mandy of her autistic daughter, "but then she found out it was just a dare."

Middle school-aged kids have enough to worry about without some guy wearing a yellow cardigan writing their name in a newspaper column, so there's no point in doing it and I'm too old to take dares.

For the boy that asked this girl to the dance on a dare and had no intention of taking her, we all make mistakes. I wanted to ask a girl I liked in eighth grade to a dance but some of my friends made fun of me because she had crooked teeth. I listened to my friends and never asked her. The same girl ended up being a supermodel and was the cover girl for Estee Lauder and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Lesson: don't always listen to your friends, especially in middle school.

Every kid has struggles and every kid falls down. Every parent is hopefully there to help pick them back up. In the case of Tom and Mandy, they have had more than their fair share of pick-'em-ups.

"Birthdays have not been very happy for us," said Mandy. "We plan a big huge thing and none of the other kids ever showed up."

Mandy and Tom have four adopted children, three girls and a boy, ranging from first grade to sixth grade.

All four siblings have the same biological parents and three of the four children have autism.

"When you sit down and look at it on paper, it looks crazy chaotic," said Mandy. "But when you just do it and know what you're doing it for, you just make it happen."

Tom chimed in, "God's not going to give us more than we can handle."

The youngest, a boy, was with his birth mom until he was 4.

A year ago, Tom and Mandy's adopted son couldn't hold a pen, now he's making birthday cards.

"That kid has moved mountains," said Mandy.

"He has the best belly laugh ever," said Tom. "You could be having the worst day and if you hear that laugh, it's just that catchy."

Tom and Mandy say their family has to be organized and they definitely have a weekly schedule.

"We're like, it's (the schedule) a three-pager this week," said Mandy. "But hey, we're going to do it. It's going to work out."

Mandy is now helping educate first-time parents with autistic children. Tom works for the St. Croix County Sheriff's Office handling crimes against children.

November is National Adoption Month. It seems misplaced to celebrate adoption with a month. It seems misplaced to celebrate it at all. However misplaced, it is necessary and hopefully positively impacts the lives of many children.

According to Pierce County Human Services Director Ron Schmidt, their caseload for finding foster homes has doubled in the last three years.

"Methamphetamine is by far the most pressing social problem that we have in child welfare," said Schmidt. "In 2017, it (methamphetamine use) was up and we thought it can't get much worse, but it is worse. This could be our new normal for a while."

Adoption and foster care has been the "normal" for Schmidt since he grew up in a Chicago suburb. He had five brothers and sisters but his mom, Joanne, also adopted nine special needs children.

"Social workers help kids because they care about kids. I blame my mom," Schmidt said with a facetious, knowing smile.

In Chicago, during the height of Joanne Schmidt's adopting days, crack cocaine was the main culprit for Schmidt's Shangri-La high occupancy. The name of the drug has changed but not the mission for this Schmidt generation.

"Alcohol may take 10 or 20 years before you see the same destitution meth can do in 1 to 6 months. Our reason for kids going into foster care right now is almost solely due to methamphetamine."

Erin Baskin is the Foster Care Coordinator for Pierce County. It's her job to find needed foster homes for children in our area. If there are no licensed foster homes available, the children are sent to a facility at least 60 miles away and attend a new school with new teachers and classmates.

"In many cases, that school environment is the only safe thing they have in their lives," said Baskin. "If we have to move them 60 miles away and take them away from their teacher, too, it's traumatic. We don't want to do that if we don't have to."

"Nothing makes us happier when a family can be reunified and they can be safely back home with their parents. That is the goal from day one," said Schmidt. "But we are having less than desired success because of methamphetamine."

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent, you may contact Baskin at

erin.baskin@co.pierce.wi.us or 715-273-6766 ext. 6609.

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