MADISON, Wis - During Foster Care Awareness Month in Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker is honoring foster families who have gone above and beyond to open their hearts and homes.
The ceremony at the capitol also brought awareness to the need for more foster parents to take in siblings and teenagers.
The Department of Children and Families said 41 percent of foster kids in Dane County are age 12 and over, but only 19 percent of foster homes take in children of that age range.
"It has been, gosh, complicated is really the word that I can think of and there's really nothing that can prepare you for teenagers in foster care," said Natalie Underwood.
Natalie and her husband Cary Underwood of Menominee Falls, were one of the six families awarded on Tuesday.
Just last week, the couple adopted the teen brothers they had been fostering.
When they got their license a year and a half ago, they originally said they'd foster a child between the ages of 5 and 12.
"Our first placement was 13 (years old). Our second placement was 17. So you have no idea, every child is a blessing and a gift," said Underwood.
Each parent who spoke after being awarded mentioned the trauma their foster children have experienced and the patience it takes to help care for them.
"Thank you to our foster sons and our daughter. Thank you for trusting us to provide a safe place for you to heal. You teach us that love gets stronger when it's tested," said awardee Nan Pieper of Sun Prairie.
Underwood said taking in siblings made things challenging.
"It is so important for them to be together but it also brings up all of the hurts and all of the memories and the pain," said Underwood. "It also brings out a lot in them that allows us to work through some heavy things."
She said there is something everyone can do to help a foster child, including donating suitcases so children don't have to keep all of their belongings in garbage bags.
Advocates were also honored. The first mother-son duo to receive the award were Green Bay Packers' running back Ty Montgomery and his mother, Lisa.
If you would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent in Dane County, call 242-6303 or visit fostercare.dcdhs.com.