With almost 14,000 Michigan children in foster care, the need for foster families continues to rise.
Shay Mavis, the foster care licensing supervisor at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Kalamazoo County Office, said there's no set number for how many foster homes are needed.
"Honestly as many as we can get," Mavis said. "We are always going to need safe, loving homes for children and not every home is going to fit every child."
There are 202 licensed foster homes in Kalamazoo County, according to a MDHHS public information officer. Statewide there are 6,344 licensed foster homes.
"We need homes that are willing to be called on at a moments notice, because that's a lot of our calls that end up getting made," Mavis said.
She said fear might be a big reason more people don't take the steps to becoming a foster parent.
"I think some of the fears are related to the commitment - not knowing what commitment they're making, or to which child, or to what situation," she said.
Mavis said that is what her office is for. They provide all the information needed for someone or a family to consider becoming a foster parent.
"Each child requires such specific things, too, and I think that that's another fear, but there's a community out there to meet those needs and to help and there's resources," she said.
Mavis said people interested in becoming a foster parent should first call 1-855-MICHKIDS. There they will be connected to a Foster Navigator, who is either a licensing specialist or a foster care parent themselves, to answer a lot of the questions you might have.
"Don't be scared to ask the questions," she said. "We want to provide you with as much information as absolutely possible to make sure you know you feel comfortable in the role you're playing in this child's life."
November is Michigan Adoption Month and on Nov. 14 the 9th Circuit Court will host an Adoption Day to celebrate the adoption of children who are in need of a forever home.
There are 23 children being adopted during the 2018 event. They've spent, on average, 693 days in foster care according to 9th Circuit Court Adoption Coordinator Amanda Schuitema.
Mavis said the process for becoming a foster care home can take six months. There are resources that can be found at the MDHHS webiste.
After calling 855-MICHKIDS, you're referred to the correct agency. Then prospective foster parent gets to pick who licenses them.
That is when the real work begins, according to Mavis. A licensing worker reaches out to the family to learn about them and their home. There's an orientation, references are checked, backgrounds checks are conducted, home assessment are conducted, same goes for family assessments.
The agency then writes a report that goes to Lansing, where those reports are reviewed and then ultimately licenses awarded.
That may sound like a lot, but Mavis hopes people realize once that process is completed, it isn't long before a child in need is in your care.
"I know there are people out there that just don't realize that there's the need, and I know there are people out there that would love to be able to care for and provide a loving home to a child," she said.
Mavis couldn't say why so many kids end up in foster care. MDHHS broke down the process for determining if a child is taken from parents:
- Children’s Protective Services (CPS) investigates complaints of suspected child abuse/neglect that typically are reported either by mandated reporters (people such as teachers and health care professionals who are required by law to report) and by the general public calling our toll-free 24-hour hotline for reporting suspected child/abuse neglect – 855-444-3911.
- The Michigan Child Protection Law lays out what is considered to be child abuse/neglect. Staff at the intake hotline determines whether the complaint meets the criteria for investigation by law, and if it does, assigns to the county CPS to investigate.
- CPS determines whether there was child abuse – harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through non-accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or maltreatment by a parent or guardian – and whether there was child neglect – harm or threatened harm through negligent treatment or placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child’s health or welfare by a parent or guardian.
- When CPS finds that there was child abuse or neglect, that does not necessarily mean the child is removed from the home and placed in foster care. When the department determines a child can remain in the home safely while the family receives services (such as parenting classes, mental health treatment or substance use treatment), the child is not placed in foster care. If the department determines the child can’t remain in the home safely, CPS petitions the Family Division/Probate Court for removal. The child cannot be removed unless the court accepts the petition.
- In fiscal year 2017, Children's Protective Services investigated 90,152 cases involving allegations of abuse/neglect, and fewer than 5 percent of those cases resulted in the child being removed and placed in foster care.
- There can be a variety of specific reasons a child is removed – physical injury; sexual abuse; failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter and medical care; placing a child at risk for harm (such as improper supervision on a child).