May is Foster Care Awareness / Appreciation Month
Newaygo County Community Collaborative Interview with Jennifer Patrick, Family Enrichment Center
Hello Jennifer, please tell me about your role and your connection to Newaygo County.
I am the supervisor for recruitment and retention for The Family Enrichment Center and a former foster parent myself. I’m also a biological parent and now an adoptive parent. The Family Enrichment Center exists to fill the gaps of the child welfare system by providing training, support, mentoring and services to all families, with an emphasis on adoptive, foster and kinship families. The Family Enrichment Center is contracted with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to recruit, train and support foster, adoptive and kinship families in 18 counties in SW and mid-Michigan, through Regional Resource Teams (RRTs). The RRTs are statewide and cover every county. I work with Katie Steele in Newaygo County.
May is Foster Care Awareness/Appreciation Month. Why do we need a special month?
Each May, we take time to acknowledge foster parents, family members, volunteers, mentors, policymakers, child welfare professionals, and other members of the community who help children and youth in foster care find permanent homes and connections.
With over 423,000 children and youth in foster care nationwide and 11,400 statewide, it's time to focus on how child welfare systems—especially in partnership with the legal and judicial community—can support and strengthen families, prevent disruption, and promote reunification.
In Newaygo County, we have only 37 MDHHS homes, 12 of which are out of the county, and 94 kids in care. We celebrate these important families for making a difference! And, we want to let other people who have been thinking about foster care know that now is a great time to make that first step.
How do children end up in foster care?
Children are in foster care because they or their families are going through a crisis. Often these children - from babies to teens - have been removed from their parents because they are unsafe, abused or neglected or their parents are unable to care for them.
We know that the pandemic has created stress on families. This is especially true for families who had a previously traumatic home life. We are concerned that once school is back full time, we are going to see many more cases than we have now. We think abuse and neglect cases are happening that we are not aware of yet.
Who makes a good foster family and what should people do if they are considering being a foster care family?
Foster families are people who are willing to help. They like learning, are child-centered, and have motivation to make a difference. Foster families love kids, are patient and understand that kids’ misbehavior doesn’t make them “bad kids” - behavior is often how kids communicate. There are many myths about children in foster care. It is important to know that in some cases, they need that extra support, consistency and relationship with a trusted adult to move forward. Others have some needs based on the abuse and neglect they suffered and a loving foster home can provide safety, healing and services to heal. It is important to know that these kids are resilient. There are many success stories! It is the state’s goal to provide support to the biological parents as well as the children in order to reunify the families. Often, foster children are reunited with their parent(s). Foster parents can be a bridge of guidance, encouragement and support to bring a family back together. In other cases, fostering can lead to adoption.
If a person has thought about what being a foster parent is like, I urge them to find out more. I started fostering when I was single, then continued when I got married. My husband had the same goals that I had already started moving on, and he joined me as a licensed foster parent. It has been extremely rewarding to see kids grow and be reunited with their birth families, or on other occasions, be adopted!
If you are interested in getting licensed, here is what you can expect: you will go through an application process, including a background check and pre-licensing training. We are fortunate in Michigan to have an updated training based on the latest research. An interested foster family will receive more support than ever in the history of the Michigan foster care system due to the latest research that is now available, training, the Foster Care Navigator Program and support groups! Support groups are currently online due to the pandemic, but previously in-person with childcare provided. We hope to return to in-person support groups with childcare provision once things are deemed safe again.
The average foster parents are between the ages of 30 - 55 years old. We would love to see more Empty Nesters consider becoming foster parents! In Newaygo County, we have a need for foster homes for teenagers. Due to the pandemic, adoptions, and other “season of life” reasons, we are closing more foster homes than we are opening right now. There is a big need for homes that can take kids of any age, but especially teenagers! If you love preparing youth for young adulthood, taking them to their first driver’s ed classes, helping them find a trade or job skills to equip them for independent living, let’s talk!
What else should a potential foster family know about?
Foster families receive monthly compensation based on the level of their child’s care. Each child receives a trauma assessment and will receive counseling and medical care if necessary. There are also seasonal stipends for clothing. The Foster Care Navigators can also connect foster parents with resources in their area that they may not know about such as a foster closet, where foster parents can access free clothing for children in care.
A foster parent needs to be 18 years old or older. As I mentioned earlier, foster parents can be single or married. Foster parents need to provide a stable home and can be homeowners or renters. Most foster parents work part or full-time.
Where can a potential foster family find more information?
Newaygo County DHHS Office Licensing Specialists: Shay Frisbie 231-245-2515 / Molly Jensen 231-729-1191