Milwaukee Couple Opening Small Group Home for LGBTQ Foster Youth

Brad and Nick Schlaikowski, a married couple and foster parents in Milwaukee, are close to opening an eight-bed group home to serve LGBTQ youth in the city’s foster care system.

The group home, named Courage House, will be the first LGBTQ-specific group home in Wisconsin. The three-bedroom home can serve up to eight youths at a time, and is located next to another property that will be used as a drop-in center with space for counseling services.

The group home and drop-in center will be operated by Courage MKE, the Schlaikowskis’ nonprofit with a mission of empowering LGBTQ youth. The organization was started in 2015, and became a formal nonprofit in 2016.

Among the services provided to residents will be counseling, life skills preparation and health care. Courage MKE will also partner with a local staffing firm, Human Capital Group, to assist with employment training and job placement.

In planning Courage House, the couple consulted with two similarly-sized homes in Wisconsin, and an LGBTQ-specific group home in New York City, said Brad Schlaikowski, in an email to The Imprint.

For older LGBTQ youth in foster care, a traditional group home can often be a traumatic place to be. In 2008, the American Bar Association (ABA) published Opening Doors for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care, a guide for lawyers and judges. In surveying youth for the project, the ABA found that 70 percent of youth living in group homes reported experiencing violence pegged to their orientation.

Courage House will serve up to eight LGBTQ foster youth in the Milwaukee area, the first such program in Wisconsin.

“My husband and I literally jumped into this without knowing very much two-and-a-half years ago,” he said. “We knew that taking one child at a time wasn’t nearly enough so, we closed our foster license and started Courage MKE. Our community partners have been so amazing in sharing information and offering support.”

Foster youth advocate Ryan Berg, in a 2016 op-ed for The Imprint, called the pipeline of foster care to homelessness for LGBTQ youth a “hidden pipeline.” A study last year from Lambda Legal found that states vary greatly in their legal protections for these youth.

Schlaikowski said Courage is in the process of obtaining licensing from Milwaukee and other local child welfare agencies. He said he also hopes to occasionally be able to take in runaways outside the foster care referral process.

“We will be partnered with local child welfare agencies but also plan on providing homeless services,” he said. “Together with our licensing worker we are trying to figure out the rules/expectations of us if we take in a runaway.”

The tentative opening date for Courage House is November of 2018.

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