This is a story about four young sisters who have been in and out of foster homes since they were very young. They have suffered physical and sexual abuse, and all have very high needs. These are not your typical kids.
Enter two incredible women from Wisconsin Rapids, best friends. One works full time as a nurse, and the other will graduate from a nursing program in December. Both have husbands, children of their own, pets and a lot of responsibilities.
Both families have decided to take in these four children, two each in each of their homes, showering them with love and caring. And keeping them close to each other for the first time in their lives.
“I praise both of them every single day for what they do,” said SaintA case manager Rachel Dieringer. “These are the most incredibly strong women I know.”
It all started when Lisa Ladwig, who became licensed as a treatment foster parent because “I love kids to death, and these are the kinds of kids who really need homes,” was looking to take in more children after her last foster child aged out of the system. She took placement of a 10-year-old, who we’ll call Melanie. A month later, she learned that Melanie’s 4-year-old sister, who we’ll call Amy, also needed a home.
“I thought, they’ll send this kid off to another home, not with her sibling, so I said yes,” Lisa said.
The girls joined two of Lisa’s biological children who still live at home, a boy, 14, and a girl, 16.
“I firmly believe God gave me miracle kids,” Lisa said of the two. “They know these children have been traumatized and abused and that what they are going through, with their behavior, is not normal. But they’ve been troopers; they’re amazing.”
What the two girls are going through, Lisa said, includes not having been taught to respect other people or their possessions. They have serious trust issues, which has led to false accusations against adults, and to one of them threatening to kill other children when she gets upset. They have difficulty feeling they belong anywhere. One of the girls thinks she has life-threatening medical problems that do not exist. The girls even describe themselves as not normal, which hurts Lisa a lot.
But Lisa was determined from the beginning to view these two girls as her own, to make them part of the family and to show them as much love as possible – while also setting and maintaining rules and boundaries. Her ultimate goal is to adopt them.
Along the way, things have not been easy.
“It’s been hard at times. I close myself in my room and cry. But these kids don’t know any better. They are not doing this to you. They just don’t know any better.”
Lisa also calls her best friend Kelly Millner, who lives only a couple of miles away, to vent. Occasionally she’d say, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.”
Kelly would firmly remind her, “You are not quitter.” Then Lisa would realize, “I can’t give up on these kids.”
In January of 2014, Kelly joined Lisa in Milwaukee for a sibling visit, “just to help Lisa out.” They stayed at a hotel and Lisa’s two girls swam and played together with two of their other sisters, one we will call Susan, who is now 4, and another we’ll call Nancy, who is 8.
Kelly was smitten by Nancy, and she and her husband, Chris, took the steps to become licensed foster parents. After the couple waited more than a year and a half, Susan lost her placement and needed to be moved immediately. When Susan had been with Kelly’s family about 10 months, Nancy needed placement, and she moved in, too.
Kelly said she and Chris have three boys and always wanted a girl to complete the family.
“After we struck out, the only way to get a girl was to pick one out!” she said with a laugh. “And now we have two!”
But the idea of keeping the four sisters together also played a big role. She saw that Lisa’s youngest girl and Nancy clung to each other at the visit in January of 2014. They hadn’t seen each other since March of 2013.
“I have three sisters in California, and I can pick up the phone and talk to them any time. I know where they are. This was just sad, and it was hard for me.”
So, the Millner family grew. The couple also hope ultimately to adopt their two foster daughters.
And, as with Lisa, things were not always easy.
“There are days you want to throw in the towel,” Kelly said, “But who would be there to love these girls?”
Nancy, who was removed from her biological mother at birth, then lived in several homes, “was a handful when we got her, but I couldn’t imagine life without her,” Kelly said. The girl’s behavior is several years behind her chronological age. Susan has a lot of fear, with people, sirens and other things, and her behavior seems to run in cycles.
But if the Millners had not decided to step up for these children, Chris said, “Who’s going to do it? We want a healthy society, and we can’t throw kids away.”
He and Kelly support each other the best they can and remind themselves that all children have challenges.
“These girls just got dealt the worst hand,” he said. “Yes, there are challenges, but they can be overcome… And you just keep your eye on where things can be. We want them all to be part of a normal family — and for the boys to have sisters.”
Lisa’s goal is for her girls to “get beyond the horribleness they endured, and I want them to be happy, to be able to call themselves normal, and to know they can be something special.”
And then there is the women’s friendship. They can rely on it to help bolster all of their families’ hopes and dreams.
“We can just call and vent with whatever it is,” Kelly said with a grin. “And they know they can always come over here.”
Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit growhope.net.