Thomas and Lillian Rivera, SaintA licensed foster parents, received a Governor’s Foster Parent Award on May 2 at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. The award was presented by Secretary of the Department of Children and Families, Eloise Anderson and Wisconsin First Lady Tonette Walker.
The Riveras were one of six families to receive this annual award, which recognizes the extraordinary commitment that Wisconsin’s foster parents make to being positive influences for children in their care. The Riveras were the only Milwaukee family to receive this honor in 2016.
“We owe you more thanks than we even know how to say,” said Secretary Anderson in her welcome message to foster families. She went on to estimate that there are currently more than 7,000 children in out of home care in Wisconsin, many of whom have experienced trauma or who have special needs. “You have figured out how to understand this trauma and, by doing so, you play a significant role in these children’s lives.”
Tonette Walker echoed this in her opening remarks, saying, “You open your hearts and homes to the most vulnerable children in Wisconsin and offer them a safe place.”
The Riveras have had eight placements in about five years, including several children with special needs. “Lillian is a former paraprofessional with Milwaukee Public Schools, so she has lots of experience working directly with children with autism,” says Merranda Houston, SaintA Licensing Specialist. “When Lillian retired recently, she knew she wanted to keep working with these kids. It’s her mission.”
Thomas and Lillian currently have one foster child, a five year old boy, who is most likely on the autism spectrum and they have adopted 3 children from previous placements. “Structure, routine and regular communication with teachers, those are some reasons the Riveras makes such great special needs foster parents,” Houston says. “They also do a lot at home to identify triggers and minimize behavior. They’ve learned and live trauma informed care.”
For their part of it, Lillian very humbly says, “We don’t do this for the recognition. But if our story will help inspire others to become foster parents, then all this attention is worth it.”