Ways to Keep Kids Engaged this Summer

Michigan Science Center brings wonders of the universe and live experiments directly into your living room. Log on to MiSci’s ECHO Distance Learning Studio, Mondays through Fridays at 2:30 p.m.

While public libraries have been approved to re-open in Michigan. several public libraries are open online. And many have made their extensive collections of ebooks and movies available for download. Some also have special online programming and book groups for kids — and grown-ups, too.

Southfield Public Library website is open with e-books, audio books, movies, music, children’s resources and many research sources at www.southfieldlibrary.org. SPL plans to reopen in phases. One of the first phases will be with phone service and material pickup at the drive-through window. They will post information when this service is ready on their website and social media pages.

Please check the websites and continue to utilize online resources of our state’s outstanding libraries. Among them are the Detroit Public Library and the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.

Get outdoors. Huron-Clinton Metro Parks are open throughout Southeast Michigan, as are Michigan State Parks, including Belle Isle. Hike, bike, explore and more.

Yoga with Maya. Mondays through Sundays at 5 p.m. Click here for directions for 30-minute, password-protected Zoom sessions.

Animal Lessons from Detroit Zoo.  Discover amazing animals and learn online.

Coloring Through the City. A fun way to explore Detroit is the downloadable Detroit Parks Coloring Book brought to you by Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. The book is made possible by the teams at Eastern Market, the Belle Isle Conservancy, Downtown Detroit Partnership, and the City of Detroit.

Katherine Ward: An Amazing Smile May Be Why Storyteller Seems So Familiar

You may have seen Katherine “Katie” Ward on Spaulding’s Facebook page. Every Monday evening, she reads books out loud as the star of “Storytime with Miss Katie.”

The time is special for children and adults who enjoy hearing a good story. Click here to catch the program Mondays at 7 p.m.

Katie Ward soon will celebrate nearly 10 years as a professional serving in foster care and adoption. She has served more than three years with Spaulding for Children.

While in college Katie was headed to a criminal justice degree when she took a class in juvenile justice that changed the course of her life.

“I could not believe what these kids had gone through,” Katie said. “And I knew I needed to help.”

Katie cites her own great childhood for her love of kids. She adds it may be difficult for people to understand that many children today do not receive the unconditional support that they did growing up.

Katie is one of 7 children. And, today, she is raising two children. She also has a large extended family.

“I know that everyone just wants to be seen, heard and supported,” Katie said.

At Spaulding Katie works as an adoption specialist. It is her job to find adoptive families for youth in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated.

To locate a family, Katie works her network of agencies and contacts foster families and other relatives of the child. She works with MARE, the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange, where she develops an online profile of the child and then attends recruitment events.

Currently, Katie is most excited to report that she has identified a family for a youth who has been in foster care longer than anyone in the state. The young person is approaching his 17th birthday and has several developmental challenges.

While in the residential placement he received several support therapies from occupational to counseling which have been invaluable. Not all residential centers have such extensive services.

“When a couple adopts an older child, they miss the teething and learning to ride a bike phase, but they get to be instrumental in helping someone become an adult,” Katie said. “These parents can teach things like learning to drive, applying for a job, how to present themselves in an interview, order and tip in a restaurant, laundry, cooking – all the skills he/she will need to be independent. And, of course, how to find and cultivate their passion.”

While Katie is awaiting finalization of this adoption, she states that the hardest part of her work is telling a child that a family they have been visiting with does not in fact want to move forward with the auditorium.

Adoption workers like Katie spend months with a prospective family before introducing the child. She teaches them that children in foster care, despite the challenges they have faced that led them to be in care, have had training that will be beneficial to them – and their next family.

Families are taught coping and mindfulness skills. Finally, families looking into adoption receive additional support from Spaulding, both before and after the adoption. There are also support groups for adoptive families to help them on their journey.

“I would love to think about a day when my services would not be needed,” Katie said. “But until that day, I’ll be here.”

Enjoy being with Katie online at Storytime with Miss Katie each Monday at 7 p.m., live on Spaulding’s Facebook page:  www.facebook.com/spauldingforchildren

Family Preservation Principles

The National Family Preservation Network has outlined principles of Intensive Family Preservation Services. These services are designed to support families in which children are either at imminent risk of placement or have been placed outside their homes.

Principles in Working with Families

  • The family is the best resource for the nurture, care, and well-being of children.
  • The most durable way to help children is to help their parents.
  • Keeping families safely together, whenever possible, must be the highest priority of government laws, policies, and funding.
  • Because the integrity of the family is critical to its functioning, services to families must primarily focus on keeping families together or reunifying families when out-of-home placement is necessary.
  • Families must be assessed for strengths as well as weaknesses.  Strengths can be used to help address weaknesses.
  • Families must be involved in decisions about every aspect of an intervention: safety, assessment, goals, services, progress, placement (if necessary), and outcomes.
  • Families must be empowered through services, not kept dependent on them. Services should be provided only until the family is stabilized and has the necessary skills to remain safely together. Families can then choose whether or not they want additional services.
  • We owe families the best possible services at the lowest cost to whoever is paying for the services.  All services must be evaluated for their effectiveness and cost-benefit.

Click here for more information from the National Family Preservation Network.

 

 

June Is Reunification Month

When a catastrophe happens, when a child is forced to be removed from his or her home, the State turns to agencies like Spaulding to temporarily take care of the safety and well-being of that child. From the moment a child walks in to our care, our main goal is to reunify the child and his family. When the child is returned with his or her family, this process is called reunification.

Spaulding’s goal is to reunite children with their families. Foster care serves as a temporary placement for a child while the parent(s) addresses the issues that led to the child’s out of home care. When a child is removed from the home, Spaulding communicates to parents their rights while the child is in foster care and they also communicate with foster (resource) families about their role, responsibilities and rights.

When the birth family works closely with the foster family and the Agency, the child can feel more secure. And while they may not completely understand, children can sense when the grown-ups are working on their behalf to transition back to their birth family home.

Spaulding for Children supports the family, both birth families and foster (resource) families, to rectify any issues that have caused a child to be removed from the birth home. We also serve as a bridge between birth and foster families, helping the families develop a supportive relationship on behalf of the child.

Despite the challenges presented with virtual court hearings during COVID, Spaulding worked with another agency to reunite a mother with her two children. The process of family reunification is strengthened by community involvement. Child welfare and social service professionals encourage all members of a community, even those who are not foster parents, should learn about the needs of families with children in foster care and how one can help support the family’s reunification efforts.

When a child is successfully reunited with his or her family, everyone sees the child welfare system at its finest!

Melissa S. Jenovai, LMSW, Vice President of Child and Family Services, Spaulding for Children, served as a resource for this article.

Click here to learn more about Family Reunification.

 

 

Love Continues After Reunification

Her kids call Ms. Allen, “Aunty Mary.” She has adopted four and fostered more than 30 children through the years, including two teen girls who were reunited with their father.

Ms. Allen works side by side with birth parents – but always on the kids’ side – doing what is in their best interest. Yet, even after reunification, the connection with Aunty Mary does not stop.

“I’m here for all my kids,” Ms. Allen said. “They are always in my life.”

Aunty Mary provided foster care and then helped reunify two teenage girls with their single father. She helped the girls understand the complicated family dynamics.  After the girls were reunified with their dad, Ms. Allen permitted the girls to stay with her during the week to attend their school.  Her support to this family after the reunification helped to sustain the family unit.

At Aunty Mary’s home, the kids get lots of love – and are taught responsibilities, including chores. Upon completing their chores, they receive an allowance.  The child’s most important responsibility in her home is school.

“Education is Priority #1,” Ms. Allen said. “Homework is not optional.”  Ms. Allen goes to her kids’ schools and talks to each of their teachers. Teachers very much appreciate her active presence. Her kids also appreciate her involvement.

Knowledge is key, Ms. Allen said. What children learn in school is what they need to move forward in life. What children need to learn in the home, she adds, is they are loved – just for being who they are.

Even though the girls have been reunified with their family, they continue to feel the love Aunty Mary gives to them.  Today the girls often call her and ask if they can come by for a sleep-over. They continue to receive gifts on their birthdays and they are in contact by phone frequently.

 

How Our Families Are Dealing with COVID-19 Challenges

We asked our families: “How are you doing?” Here are a some of their stories about challenges and resilience during the national emergency wrought by coronavirus/COVID-19.

Mary Harvey, with school aged kids, took in a child who needed replacement during this time. Jolika Welbourne is waiting patiently to finalize an adoption as courts remain closed. Julie McKelvey is helping a 4-year-old understand why everything has changed.

One family added a new member during the state’s “Stay-Home, Stay-Safe” order issued March 13 by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Mary Harvey took in a child who needed re-placement, the 2-year-old brother of a 3-year-old child already in her care as a foster mother. She also is mom to several other school-aged kids in the home. So far, everyone has stayed inside the house and yard.

“We are doing OK,” Ms. Harvey said. “We go play outside nearly every day unless weather is bad. The kids understand the virus. I wear a mask when I go out.”

The school lent them Chromebook computer tablets. Teachers work with kids online 30-45 minutes every day. The school provides lunches each day. The kids also enjoy reading books for fun.

The national emergency has prevented one of the boys from seeing his biological mother during a visit. However, they do talk by telephone and computer.

“We miss going to the park and outings like skating, and the kids miss their friends and group activities,” Ms. Harvey said. “But while we are isolated, we are playing and enjoying each other.”

Ms. Harvey looks forward to participating in online SFC parent meetings. She said the family is grateful to Spaulding for Children for the hand-made masks which were delivered to them. She also appreciates the help Spaulding provided to arrange for a bed to be delivered to the home when the stores were closed.

One Michigan educator had her hands full as a Kindergarten teacher during normal times.

Today, Jolika Welborne still has her hands full conducting school from home, a house today filled with her own young children.

Yet, somehow, the clock seems to move slowly: Ms. Welbourne is waiting to finalize an adoption.

Presently Ms. Welborne has “adoption supervisor rights” for the 2 and 3 year-old children. (This means that the court is allowing the family to act as parent to the child, but she does not have the “right” until the adoption is finalized.) The paperwork was turned in for processing late in February of this year. Now, it’s likely sitting on a desk somewhere.

“The waiting is not too bad, because the children are young,” Ms. Welborne said. “They don’t know it was supposed to have come through already. We had a celebration trip to Disney planned, which we don’t know if and when that can be rescheduled. Luckily, that was a surprise too.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, they are all at home. The children receive lunches from school, which helps because their days also are filled with more cooking than ever with everyone home.

As a Kindergarten teacher, Ms. Welborne makes certain the children have full days, too. They all enjoy activities planned for each day, from drawing to books.

Ms. Welborne previously adopted the children’s sister. The family looks forward to a very special day.

“I imagine if you are older and awaiting the ‘paperwork,’ as my other child calls the finalized adoption, then it could be stressful,” Ms. Welborne said. “They live for that day.”

What will change, once the adoption comes through, depends, Ms. Welborne said.

“I can change their names at preschool,” Ms. Welborne said. “It’s confusing to them when they call out a last name different from mine. Also, with finalization comes peace of mind and security. It’s good to know that it will be official, and we will be a forever family.”

Julie McKelvey is trying to help a 4-year-old understand why everything has changed.

“We know the rules and the reason for the Stay at Home orders,” Ms. McKelvey said. “But, kids don’t understand why school stopped; why friends can’t come over; why the parks are closed; why they can’t go out with their parents.”

And If you are 4 years old, this frustration is going to come out somehow, Ms. McKelvey shared. Adding she had noted her daughter’s behavior has been more challenging since the Stay at Home order.

“Because of her asthma, I don’t take her anywhere,” Ms. McKelvey said. “These youngsters have been through so much before they came into our homes. We had a weekly therapy session for her before this and she continues it now online. Some days she’s just had enough, and her behavior shows it. She can scream it out and even potty-training skills suffer.”

The days have been quite different for all in the family’s home, compared to the way life was in March. Ms. McKelvey’s husband, who normally works nights, is now at home too. “He’s frustrated and waiting to get called back to work in the coming weeks,” Ms. McKelvey said.

Even though it’s temporary, the family has had to access services to help them – which means lots of forms, filings, and waiting on the phone.

“We are hoping for our August vacation and then getting our daughter back in school,” Ms. McKelvey said. “I tell my husband, ‘This will come to an end and we will get through it.’”

Helping Spaulding Families During COVID-19 Emergency

Many of our families are out of work. Some have family members who are sick and need additional care. And kids at home are requiring more supervision and oversight.

And for many of our families, the regular support services they count on are interrupted.

But at Spaulding we have not forgotten our families. We have just modified how we support them.

And you can help

What We are Doing to Help Our Families

  • Moved our support groups and trainings to virtual meetings.
  • Weekly check-in calls with families to assess well-being and to determine needs.
  • Made face masks available for families and continue to source more. In addition to allowing parents to go out when needed, masks allow for in-person parent and child visits.
  • Have set up deliveries ranging from food to gift cards and laptop computers to some of our most needy families.
  • Hosting activities for youngsters including virtual dance classes, as well as Monday night book readings, daily 30-minute yoga sessions on Facebook
  • Launching a virtual tutoring program for our families.

How You Can Help

  • Donations of any dollar amount will help us continue to supply families with additional resources and necessary supplies.
  • In Kind donations of gift cards (Kroger’s, Meijer’s, Target, Walmart, etc.)
  • Spread the word to friends and family who might want to help.

Donate here

By Mail: 16250 Northland Drive, Suite 120 Southfield, MI 48075

SFC Staff Profile: Pastor Donearl Johnson

Pastor Donearl Johnson with his family.

Pastor Donearl Johnson

Pastor Donearl Johnson learned a lot about trauma and how it affects kids in their development when he worked at Spaulding for Children for 11 years.

Pastor Johnson held many positions at Spaulding, including providing all IT support for federal grant projects. He also learned throughout his work about childhood trauma from Dr. Bruce Perry, the internationally recognized authority on children in crisis, and other experts about trauma.

Donearl Johnson today is Lead Pastor at Life Church Auburn Hills. There Pastor Johnson serves in the local school community with children and families who have been exposed to trauma. There are many challenges that these children face due to their exposure. Also, there are several families in his community that have been made through adoption and he desires to equip families and the church community on how to best serve them.

Pastor Johnson is committed to teaching those who interact with these children to become as informed as he became at SFC. Johnson feels that these families can benefit from guidance about trauma and its effects on a child’s development.

One statement Pastor Johnson heard while working at Spaulding is a saying he will never forget. And he puts it into practice.

“We spend too much time reacting to the behavior, instead of responding to their needs,” Pastor Johnson said. “It is better to respond than to react.”

Pastor Johnson is committed to teaching those who interact with these children to become as informed as he became at Spaulding. Johnson said he feels that these families can benefit from guidance about trauma and its effects on a child’s development.

Examples of what he’s learned that he’d like to share include:

  • Take the time as needed: It may take longer to feel an emotional connection with children who’ve experienced trauma in their lives, likewise, it may take longer to see positive changes in their behavior.
  • Don’t expect the child to behave like kids who have not been through what they have.
  • Don’t judge. Just give them support.

Recognizing different types of trauma – including physical – can help us understand their behavior, Pastor Johnson said. For example, when a child turns away from us when we reach out to embrace them. Don’t blame them or yourself. Touch can take on a completely different meaning than intended. Learning this can help us manage our expectations and understand their behavior.

“If you see a child in a wheelchair, you don’t say, ‘Get up and walk,’” Pastor Johnson said. “For children who have been exposed to trauma, they too have scars and inabilities that are not that visible, but they are very real. Therefore, you need to manage your expectations and support accordingly.”

Pastor Johnson hopes to train his staff at the church on some techniques that he learned from the child welfare community.  Also, he plans to partner with child welfare professionals to help his staff and entire church community learn more about childhood trauma, its effects on children and their families, and best practices to serve those in need.

He believes that by sharing with each other trauma awareness – everyone can make more informed decisions about how we help advance the healing journey for a child.

SFC Staff Profile: Melinda Lis

Melinda Lis, MSW

Many who have worked with Melinda Lis, MSW, report she brings together the inquisitive nature and analytical mind of the scientist with the heartfelt compassion and selfless dedication to others of the social worker. Devoted professionally to the welfare of children, Ms. Lis and her husband also have put the approach into practice in their own home as adoptive parents.

Ms. Lis began her work with Spaulding for Children in 2013 as the Director of the National Resource Center for Adoption. Through her office, she led the work to integrate policy and practice in order to help States, Tribes and Territories develop, expand, strengthen and improve the quality and effectiveness of adoption services provided to children in the child welfare system. The focus was to develop and provide new informational and professional resources to drive systemic change that would result in the successful adoption of waiting, abused, and neglected children.

Today the Vice President of The Academy for Family Support and Preservation at Spaulding, Ms. Lis recently served as Project Director of the National Quality Improvement Center for Adoption/Guardianship Support and Preservation (QIC-AG) housed at Spaulding. In that role, she helped develop, test and implement evidence-based interventions and promising practices that serve to achieve long-term, stable permanence in adoptive and guardianship homes, as well as for children and families after adoption or guardianship has been finalized. What’s more, the work has helped educators, physicians, and others better understand children who have suffered separation, loss and trauma.

“One thing we have done is to help move the needle for child welfare systems across the nation,” Ms. Lis said. “They have begun to reconsider how they serve their families, providing more of a continuum of services that span from high intensity to lower intensity support. Perhaps one family needs more frequency in their contacts. Others, perhaps, need a lighter touch. So, we have worked to build a system to help children and their families as they go through developmental milestones.”

The idea is to make available information and resources when needed by adoptive and guardianship families. For successful implementation, the work often requires a direct-service level of interaction to form optimal placements that lead to permanence, as well as measures for the child’s well-being and the family’s well-being.

“When you don’t have systems to help individual families change the momentum of the circumstances they are in, the process for permanence can be difficult,” Ms. Lis said. “Better placements are possible, measured by a child’s well-being and a family’s well-being. To do so, families need ready access to information, guidance, and support. So, when suddenly confronted with unexpected problems or even the problems that almost all families go through, such as when a child enters the teen-age years, everything doesn’t have to change. The ability to draw on reliable data and expertise in the field can make a complete difference and help restore what had been a stable family dynamic.”

Cristina Peixoto, President and CEO of Spaulding, stated Ms. Lis is nationally recognized as an effective leader and as a passionate advocate for strengthening foster, adoptive and guardianship families.

“Melinda’s leadership has helped change the perception of how child welfare systems should serve children and families post permanency through the development of a continuum of services focused on prevention,” Ms. Peixoto said. “The products she has developed and shared, the alliances she has formed, and the excitement she has brought to participants in the process have generated thankful responses, as measured by the testimonials that have poured in to Spaulding about Melinda’s innovative leadership.”

Through her work with QIC-AG, Ms. Lis brought together academic researchers, medical professionals, educators, and child welfare specialists to think critically together – with the goal of creating better child welfare systems.

“Melinda is a big thinker and can translate big thinking into tangible projects with real impact for children and families,” wrote April Dinwoodie, a member of the Family Builders Network, herself an adoptee, and a consultant. “Melinda believes a difference can be made for children and families and she is willing to put in the work!”

The people served by Ms. Lis also are willing to go on record with support. Elizabeth Richmond, an adoptive parent and Co-Chair of the Illinois Adoption Advisory Council, wrote about the time the State of Illinois was preparing to reshape its child welfare system in the 1990s:

“I remember being so impressed with Melinda’s level of respect for the parent representatives and how I felt she truly valued our input and opinions,” Ms. Richmond wrote. “Melinda worked extremely hard on a part of the overhaul that would make getting specialized services more standard. Her suggestions allowed both foster and adoptive families a much fairer and quantitative way of seeing services for their children. Melinda’s work also helped hold staff accountable and responsible for the necessary services and support foster and adoptive families need to succeed – not just a payment.”

Ms. Lis received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama. She received her master’s in social work from the University of Chicago.

“To me, it’s not just a job – the work is part of a mission,” Ms. Lis said. “I felt it was something I wanted to do long before I entered college. I never doubted it or thought about as doing what I want to do for a career. I always knew it is what I am meant to do. If a person wants to be part of a change that serves to improve systems or policies or peoples’ lives in new ways, this work offers many opportunities.

“With a social work degree, you can make an impact that also brings fulfillment. You are almost certain to make more money as an accountant or as an attorney, but you can’t get the same satisfaction for trying to make a difference.”

SFC Staff Profile: Kate Pogany

Kate Pogany, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruitment Specialist

 

One caring adult can make all the difference in the world to a child in search of a “Forever Home.” Kate Pogany believes that and loves working on behalf of each child. Working in the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) program at Spaulding for Children, she helps find the caring people and families who can give a waiting child permanence.

Ms. Pogany is a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruitment Specialist at Spaulding. One of two such positions sponsored and supported financially by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, the WWK program helps find permanent homes for children with special needs and older children awaiting adoption.

“The missions of Spaulding and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids are very much aligned,” Ms. Pogany said. “Both were founded with the belief that there are no ‘unadoptable’ children. And both do all they can to make that a reality.”

What makes the work difficult is the sheer number of children awaiting families – about 300 in Michigan who currently are without an identified family, she said.

The WWK program follows a “child-focused recruitment” model. In the practice, the individual needs, specific circumstances and unique history of each child awaiting adoption provide the foundation for searching for the appropriate families – particularly for children most at risk of aging out of care.

The WWK program also helps Ms. Pogany and her colleague to focus less on the administrative tasks and to do what she does best: serve in the interests of a child by interacting on their behalf directly with individuals, families and children.

“Often, caseworkers are overloaded and overworked,” Ms. Pogany said. “Each person in the field has many obligations they have to meet. While we still complete reports and fill out paperwork, we can focus is on the child and the recruitment of an adoptive family. Even with so many children awaiting adoption, it’s just a matter of finding the right person and family.”

Ms. Pogany knows what to look for: loving, kind, thoughtful and determined people with a sense of humor. Adoptive parents also need flexibility to adapt to new circumstances and a desire to learn new ways of approaching parenting.

“We are searching to interview the right family,” Ms. Pogany said. “We want to help them see that they would not be alone in raising an adopted child. We are there to help them with resources, information, and the other tools they need, but also in that we are their partner in helping them when there’s a problem, as kids often experience as they go through their teen years.”

Finding the right person can be a most difficult assignment. Many prospective adoptive parents are stretched to the limit economically, taking care of aging parents and other family members, and may not see how they can introduce a new child to their home.

“Even if making the ultimate commitment – becoming a foster or adoptive parent – is outside your skill-set, you can still be in a position to make an enormous impact in the development and future life of a child by being a mentor or adult role model,” Ms. Pogany said.

Ms. Pogany recently celebrated her sixth anniversary at Spaulding for Children. She began her professional career in social work, then took a position in an unrelated field. After completing training as a volunteer in the Michigan CASA program – Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children – she was appointed to serve as the advocate charged with representing the interests of a 7-year-old child who was a permanent ward of the state of Michigan.

Within a year of beginning her work as a CASA volunteer, Ms. Pogany decided to return to the field of social work. Today, through her work and example, she is making all the difference for children and the world.