Earlier this week, one set of Wisconsin siblings got the best Christmas gift they could ever imagine. That’s when their foster parents, Chris and Wendy Attoe of Chippewa Falls, officially adopted Trysten (13) and Infinity (6), nicknamed “Finny.” A group of family members and social workers-turned friends gathered at Chippewa Falls Family Court to witness Judge Steven Cray unwrap the gift of family.
He asked the children if they wanted 14-year old Jayden Attoe to officially be their big brother and received a resounding, “Yes!” He then asked if they wanted Chris and Wendy to officially be their parents. That response was also very positive and was followed up with a request for ice cream for Finny and a celebratory lobster dinner for Trysten.
Both kids would eventually get their requested treats, along with the rest of the day off from school, because it was such a special occasion. After the parents confirmed they were willing and able to provide care for the pair as if they were their own, Judge Cray made it official just in time for Christmas.
Gotcha Day was a Long Time Coming
The family has been together for just shy of two years already. In fact, the Attoes were the first Northwestern Wisconsin family to be licensed as treatment foster care (TFC) parents through SaintA in late 2014. They took placement of the two siblings in early 2015.
Chris Attoe described adoption day as “A long time coming,” because it takes time and energy to care for foster children with special needs, while still encouraging and facilitating a relationship with the biological parents. The Attoes have been known to take Trysten and Finny down to Monroe County for visits with their biological family, a routine they plan to continue even now.
The Attoes are also strong foster care advocates. “Kids might end up where they don’t need to be if not for foster parents,” summarizes Wendy. She’s right – there are more than 6,000 children in out-of-home-care at any given time in Wisconsin, many of whom who have experienced adversity such as abuse or neglect and who are at higher risk for long-term consequences.
A Heart for Children, Especially Siblings
In addition to Trysten and Finny, the Attoes have four more foster children in their care; three of which are a sibling group, including an infant born over Thanksgiving. “The Attoes have a heart for caring for siblings,” says Becky Connell, Statewide Director of Treatment Foster Care at SaintA. “They know it can be difficult to place more than one child and understand the importance of keeping siblings together.”
It’s that strong commitment to siblings that inspired the Attoes to build an addition onto their home and for Chris to become a full-time, stay-at-home dad. “When these kids first say, ‘I love you,’ it melts your heart,” says Wendy.
While SaintA has a 165-year history in Milwaukee County, its Statewide TFC Program is much newer, which is why Monday was such a milestone. SaintA TFC Specialist Nicole Johnson-Weltzin was also present to watch the family make it official. Johnson-Weltzin says in most cases, she would no longer get to see the family now that the adoption is final. “They have four other foster kids, so I will still get to visit the family routinely and see all of the kids.”