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Kari Behling

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It’s not necessary to ask Kari Behling what is precious to her. Within a few minutes in her presence it’s impossible not to feel the love and acceptance in the air. Her family, foster kids, foster families and community take up the majority of space in her heart. Even while suffering from a nasty cold she took the time to be interviewed for this “Spotlight” because of the potential for spreading the word. Spreading the word about foster care is Kari’s occupation. You may call it a job, but for her it’s “a calling.” An experienced foster parent herself, having had 40 kids in her care between 1995 and 2003, she seems uniquely qualified to be supervising the recruitment of all foster families in Milwaukee County, the position she’s held for the last nine months. As an employee of Lutheran Social Services, which contracts with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare for foster care recruitment, her enthusiasm is directed toward getting the message out to potential foster families through public speaking, media ads and general public relations. She also facilitates the orientation of the new foster families. Kari wants people to know how successful a foster family can be. A great believer in the efficacy of modeling behavior versus voicing expectations, she sees her family as a persuasive example of how good it can be. Her two older children, Brady, ten, and Ariel, eight, embrace their four-year-old sister, Jaida, who was the fortieth foster child the family took in. They adopted Jaida two years ago. Working for the BMCW makes it a “conflict of interest” for Kari to foster any more Milwaukee County children. However, the option is still open if she fosters through the Waukesha County system. “We’ve been talking a lot about it,” Kari says. This self-proclaimed “happy family” makes that kind of big decision together. The older kids even took part in naming Jaida. How content they are, and have been, with their family-style was made apparent by Brady and Ariel’s announcements that they each were going to have foster kids when they grew up. Kari’s message is: If you have a nurturing and accepting home, it can be easy to become a foster parent to one or more of the approximately 3,100 kids now in foster care in Milwaukee County. The basic requirement is that your income can cover your expenses. Childcare is paid. And Wisconsin’s complete nondiscrimination policy means that you can be eligible whatever your marital status or sexual orientation. “We recruit heavily in the gay and lesbian population,” Kari explained. “We even had a booth at Pride Fest.” Kari and her kids have lived in Riverwest for almost four years. She thinks it’s the most open and accepting neighborhood in Milwaukee. The diversity of lifestyles, family structures and racial mixtures add to the comfort of her life as her family is accepted here without all the questions she hears so often in other areas. She loves the community and feels extremely supported by her close neighbors as well as the larger neighborhood. When they’re not eating “healthy food, some from our backyard garden” at the “Behling Cafe,” their favorite place to dine out is at the West Bank Cafe. You might see them there and chance to overhear one of them voicing their latest family saying: “We are blessed.” If you observe closely, you’ll see that they really, really mean it.
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