Message from our CEO/President

Melissa Jenovai, President and CEO, Spaulding for Children

Michigan Continues to Move Toward A Kin-First Culture

May is National Foster Care Month. This year’s observance is especially significant this year for kinship families in Michigan.

A new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) policy will provide a streamlined  licensing process for kin. By officially recognizing and rapidly approving these kinship families, the state will ultimately improve permanency outcomes.

Xavier Becerra, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, said the policy change will help families stay together and improve fairness in the child welfare system. The new policy follows the example pioneered by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Tribe of Arizona.

The State of Michigan cites 10,000 children are in foster care, yet nearly half of those who care for them do not always get the support they need. This year, we acknowledge the importance of kin and applaud MDHHS for setting an example for other states, tribes, and territories.

According to the latest numbers, 42% of Michigan’s foster families are kin families. Kinship caregivers are extended family members including grandparents, aunts and uncles, adult brothers and sisters, family friends, and others who provide foster care.

“It is often grandparents who step up to care for a grandchild when that child’s parent can’t,” Secretary Xavier Becerra said. “We must be partners with those grandparents and support their commitment to care for the child while a parent gets back on their feet, so more children don’t end up in foster care.”

Previously, MDHHS’ financial support was targeted for unrelated foster caregivers. Michigan typically provides $400-$600 per month, depending on the age, and the specific level of need of a child in foster care. These funds help alleviate the impact of caring for a child in foster care. Relatives have been able to get financial support, but the process for them to become licensed and receive that support was cumbersome. This licensing process is part of the announced changes.

While financial assistance is critical, so is other support – critical knowledge that impacts the child in foster care. And that is increasing too.

Since Spaulding for Children’s founding in 1968, we have supported families. We advocate for a sibling set of four brothers to return to the care of their grandmother because we know that is where they will be successful. We support a family by helping a caregiver in college become licensed to care for her teen brother.

That support comes in many forms from training, helping families navigate the health care system, and sourcing programs and opportunities. And most of all, listening. We do this because we know that the family is the expert.

We are piloting a kinship support program called KINDER-CARES, a federally funded grant, which is focused in Macomb County.  The KINDER-CARES program will provide assistance and support to relative caregivers.

Today, as it becomes easier for Michigan kin to get licensed, the system has begun to change for the better.  With the work of our Agency and allied child welfare professionals – and with these changes of support for kin – Michigan families will receive the support and resources they need to thrive.