During a 32-year career as a probation agent and probation supervisor, Ruth Donalds got to see firsthand the effect of family trauma on children and the importance of people who help kids through difficult times.
So when her two children were grown, Kenosha resident Donalds decided to step up to help kids in need.
When a co-worker mentioned that Kenosha Human Development Services was offering classes for people interested in becoming foster parents, Donalds took the leap.
That was 2013. Ever since, her home has been open to children and teenagers as a treatment foster home, Donalds specializing in helping children with traumatic histories and behavioral challenges.
Last month, she was recognized with the 2019 Governor’s Foster Care Award.
It was Donalds’ second major award for her work. Last year, she received the 2018 Teaching Family Model Practitioner of the Year Award at the Teaching Family Association’s national conference in Omaha, Neb.
In nominating her for the governor’s award, Lisa Retzlaff, director of residential care for KHDS, called Donalds an example for other foster parents.
“She has always taken in children who have had significant traumatic histories and exhibit challenging behaviors. At times when it may have been easier to just give up, she continued to provide unconditional positive regard to those children in her home.
“She shows unbelievable support to youth who are struggling and never gives up on them,” Retzlaff wrote in her nomination letter.
“It’s very rewarding,” Donalds said of her work as a foster parent. “There are lots and lots of challenges. But at the same time, the kids have won over my heart.”
15 foster children
Since 2013, Donalds has cared for 15 foster children. Many of those kids have been short-term stays through respite care for other foster parents or parents of autistic children. The youngest child she cared for was 5; the oldest was 18.
In 2016, she took in two teens — a brother and sister. The girl stayed with her until she graduated from high school and moved on to a technical college program in Illinois. The boy, now a sophomore in high school, lives with her still.
She maintains a close relationship with the girl, and hopes the boy will remain with her through high school.
“It took awhile to build a relationship,” she said, but said she thinks of them both as family.
Donalds said building relationships with foster kids takes a combination of clear rules, flexibility and endless encouragement.
She encourages people considering becoming foster parents to follow through.
She said there is training and a support system for foster parents, and flexibility that allows families to take in children who have needs they can accommodate.
“It’s a chance to change kids’ lives and give them stability they have never had,” she said.
While being a foster parent is a chance to help kids, Donalds said it has been a gift for her as well.
As a single mother with two grown children, she said that before becoming a foster parent she sometimes found herself with too little to do at the end of her workday.
“It’s rejuvenated me too, and it added life to my life,” she said, saying she often reminds her foster children how grateful she is for them.
“I tell them, ‘I’m thankful for you. I’m thankful you came into my life.’”