Foster Kent Kids coalition helps foster homes optimize their family dynamic

Formed this October, Foster Kent Kids is a new coalition formed as an open invitation for the recruitment, education, and support of persons both active and interested in the field of foster care.

In alignment with a five-year contract with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the West Michigan Partnership for Children (WMPC), the coalition formed in hopes of opening up the doors to more homes for foster-child placement, and mutually enhancing the experience of the youth and family. The coalition will create a model based on how many foster homes they want to recruit as a community and data on the types of homes needed, and retain current foster homes through means of support groups, trainings, appreciation events for foster parents, and respite care, scheduled throughout the year.

Today in Kent County, there are 500 foster homes and a need to place 900 foster kids.

“We created Kent Foster Kids –– the name itself is an action,” WMPC CEO Kristyn Peck says. “It calls everyone to action to foster youth, and it’s also something that each of the five private agencies in Kent County, that do foster care, can unite around.”

The initiative places the comfort and needs of the foster child on the forefront, which can often be overlooked. A common misconception of being a foster parent is that it creates a clear path toward adoption –– however, Peck says, “Our number one primary goal in foster care is to always reunite children with their parents, and that is in the best interest of the child, if at all possible.” With this in mind, the child’s preferred temperament should be reflected in their foster home, offering a temporary space of support and understanding.

“That is something that we will always have more room to learn and grow and improve, and really making sure that we are not assuming, and making assumptions about a child’s preferences, or choices, but really having that process be led by the child, and asking questions,” says Peck.

Additionally, Peck says they are “...looking at making sure we are recruiting families in the communities that kids are living in so that they don’t have to change schools, for example, looking at recruiting families that reflect the demographics of our kids so that they can maintain their connection to their community, and to their own cultures, then looking at also, how can we better support people who are already fostering children?”

Likewise, Peck notes the importance of checking in with foster parents to ensure that they feel supported. This would involve asking how Foster Kent Kids can open up the floor for their voice to be heard, and incorporating their feedback into programming and policies.

In January 2017, WMPC launched Enhanced Foster Care, a program working towards reducing the amount of residential-placed foster children by further educating and fine-tuning the skills of the caregiver to meet any special needs of the youth, allowing them to instead live in community settings like foster homes. Through Enhanced Foster Care, WMPC and its partners were able to stabilize youth in existing community-based foster placements by providing more clinical supports within the home, preventing placement disruptions, and identify youth in residential settings who could be served in the community-based foster placements with additional clinical and behavioral supports.Through this approach, the program dropped the number of placements in residential settings by 4 percent; however, the need for more foster parents was identified.

The new coalition is made up of five child-placing organizations — Bethany Christian Services, Catholic Charities West Michigan, D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s, Samaritas, and Wellspring Lutheran Services — who are state-registered to recruit and license foster parents.

“By bringing them all together, we can create a better and more comprehensive strategy for foster parent recruitment, so we can look at our community as a whole, figure out what are the needs, and then work with each of those providers,” says Peck. The coalition can then determine each of the providers’ strengths, “So we can really make sure we have a comprehensive, city-wide recruitment strategy.”

Images courtesy of West Michigan Partnership for Children.
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