Visitation made easier with 'Matthew's Place'
McCOOK, Neb. -- Matthew's Place in McCook is helping parents learn how to be parents.
At the Prairie Plains CASA -- Court Appointed Special Advocate -- office in McCook, Matthew's Place has all the comforts of home. With a kitchen, appliances, eating area, bedroom with bunkbeds and living room, 'Matthew's Place" is a homey setting that biological parents can use on supervised visitation with their children that have been placed in foster care.
Although 75 percent of foster kids in Nebraska are placed with family members, the rest are not. For them, visitation with their biological parents usually takes place at their own or a family member's home, but sometimes there is no family member and sometimes, the family itself is homeless.
In that case, before Matthew's Place was set up, parents had limited places to go for visitation, such as conference rooms in offices, the park, even at fast food places.
Trying to learn appropriate parenting methods in those kinds of environments set up kids and parents with unrealistic expectations, said Karen Storrs, volunteer coordinator with CASA in Red Willow County. "Five hours of constant entertainment is not going to happen at home," Storrs said. At Matthew's Place, parents can plan and cook meals, do a load of laundry, put a toddler down for nap, or watch a DVD and cuddle with their kids on the couch.
It takes it's name from Matthew Wiemers, the adopted son of Matt and Traci Wiemers, who took his own life at 17 due to unforeseen complications to new a medication he was taking and early life experiences, said Traci.
"He was a very smart kid with a big heart," she said, who had wanted to get into mission work when he was older. "He was a really great kid who loved to help people."
When she and her husband heard about the home-like concept for visitation, they jumped at the chance to help.
They, along with many in the community, helped furnish Matthew's Place with donations of furniture, appliances, flooring, and paint.
When children are removed from their parents due to safety or neglect reasons, the goal is always reunification, said Nicki Peterson, children and families supervisor in the McCook office of the Nebraska Health and Human Services. While parents learn appropriate parenting techniques during supervised visitations, they are also following recommendations from HHS, approved by a judge, in making their home a safe place for the return of the children.
Bruce Piercy, supervisor for in-home family services for Boys Town, an agency HHS contracts with for visitation, has nothing but praise for Matthew's Place.
"As soon as I found out about it, I immediately contacted (Prairie Plains CASA Director) Cathy McDowell about it," he said. "It replicates what we are trying to do in a homey, family-friendly place, a more natural environment that meets the needs of the family. I wish there were more places like it across the state."
Children in abusive, dangerous or neglected environments are under the radar but occurring all the time, McDowell said. Prairie Plains CASA operates in Red Willow, Furnas and Hitchcock counties with currently about 40 kids. "It's is happening to kids all around us."
"These are the kids who sit next to our kids at school," Storrs said, "the first ones at school at 7 a.m. for the free breakfast, the ones falling asleep in class."
Now that Matthew's Place is in operation, the Wiemers are turning their attention to teenagers in foster care, hoping to bring some programs to fruition. Prairie Plains CASA already has a few in place, such as taking the teens out to eat once a year to an upscale restaurant, to expose them to different experiences and to learn proper etiquette. The Wiemers would like to add more life skills, such as curriculum on relationships, responsibility and interview skills in applying for a job.
"He always wanted to help people," Traci said of her son. And now, at Matthew's Place, that's being done, one visit at a time.