“All families are important,” Tiffany Kraker says. “That includes the ones who are currently separated.”
Kraker is the executive director of Michigan Fosters
, a West Michigan nonprofit that will soon have a home where families can “feel at home.”
Journey Home is set to open next month in the former Holland Heights Christian Reformed Church parsonage at 832 E. Eighth St. The space will provide a safe and comfortable space for children to wait for their foster care placements as well as a place for families who foster and those whose children are in foster care to meet.
“Families need the sense of home,” Kraker says. “Families who have children in foster care don’t feel like they have a team. Everything is set up to show them what they’ve done wrong, what they need to fix to get their children back. They don’t have those cheerleaders.”
The best thing for the children is to have a sense of normalcy that they’re not going to get in an hour-long parental visit at a Department of Health and Human Services office. The home will be a space that is familiar where foster families, those with kids in foster care, and the kids, themselves, know what to expect.
Journey Home will offer all the usual comforts of — well — home. Families will be able to bake together, have meals together, watch movies together, and talk together.
For some of the families, those things will be entirely new territory. Supervisors will be available to teach life skills, Kraker says.
“Whenever parents can spend this type of quality time with their kiddos, they’re gaining that bonding time, that time to attach,” she says. “It’s a different type of atmosphere.”
Michigan Fosters works with the state and other agencies to find foster care placements for children and to support families on both sides of the equation.
One of the most important things is it would give children a comfortable place to wait for placement. Once removed from a home, a child can wait for hours for a foster place. It’s a terrifying time and having a home to wait in instead of an office can help, Kraker says.
Michigan Fosters started very simply — as a Facebook group for foster families looking for a community. It has grown to include Journey Home, coordination among area foster care agencies, and support for families navigating foster care.
Kraker’s own family has been licensed to foster for six years and has fostered dozens of children. They are in the process of adopting a teen who was also one of their foster children.
Working with parents
The public often thinks the foster care system is composed entirely of scary people who abuse their children. Although improvements have been made, the foster care system isn’t really working, Kraker says.
“If we really want it to work, we have to come alongside these parents,” she says.
The same sympathy she has for the kids, she has for the moms and dads. They often experienced the same sorts of trauma as their children. It’s “generational trauma,” she says.
The nonprofit has in-person and online support groups for parents, children, and new foster families. Foster families are trying to help children as best they can, but they don’t instinctively understand the court system or how to get their foster child the resources he or she needs.
“We’re kind of like the glue that holds everybody together and holds everybody accountable,” Kraker says.
Michigan Fosters recently started a monthly meeting with local foster care nonprofits with the aim of pooling resources and working together to make families stronger.
Most children return home successfully — “the best possible outcome for all families,” Kraker says — but the world is always going to need foster parents, she says.