Foster care settlement will improve system, experts say

By Courtney Bowerman • Capital News Service

LANSING — Settlement of a landmark children’s rights lawsuit is expected to bring significant improvements to Michigan’s foster care system, especially with reduced caseloads for social workers, experts say.

Under the settlement, about 200 specialists will be hired to handle the cases of 6,000 children in foster care, reducing the number of cases for current workers.

“It’s a very positive endeavor for the state,” said Janet Snyder, director of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families.

Children’s Rights, a national nonprofit organization, sued the department last year after a study showed that the state’s foster care system violates legal requirements to ensure permanent homes for children.

Sara Bartosz, Children’s Rights senior staff attorney in New York City, said that Michigan’s foster care system faces unique challenges. Of 19,000 children in the state system, about 6,000 are in temporary foster care and 7,000 are in unlicensed foster homes.

Unlicensed homes don’t receive the same financial support as licensed ones, Bartosz said. The settlement would license suitable homes.

Lyle Dorr, executive director of the Child and Family Services of Northeast Michigan in Alpena, said that some flaws in the system result from the large number of cases assigned to social workers. Thirty or 40 cases per worker is too many for workers to handle effectively, said Dorr, which is the case in Wayne County.

According to Snyder, even with a comprehensive screening process for foster parents problems may surface and small problems in a foster home can be intensified by the inability of overwhelmed social workers to pick up on warning signs, Snyder said.

The settlement will be finalized Oct. 7 in federal court in Detroit before Judge Nancy Edmunds.

Safe Haven: Child and Family Services stays true to its mission


cfslogoTRAVERSE CITY -- While the names and faces of those in need have changed during the past 70 years, the mission of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan has remained the same.

Strengthening and nurturing children and families by ensuring their safety and well-being was the goal of Dr. Mark Osterlin who, in the 1930s, began searching for safe havens for mistreated and ailing children he encountered during his career as a Traverse City pediatrician.

"Dr. Osterlin realized how many kids were in abusive or neglectful situations and found a way to help them," said Gina Aranki, marketing and public relations director of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan.

Osterlin turned to the Michigan Children's Aid Society, encouraging the organization to open an office in Traverse City where rural children were able to receive needed medical attention and battered or neglected children found temporary placement in boarding homes and with adoptive families.

More than seven decades later, the private nonprofit organization now known as Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan, provides human and social service programs to a 13 county region in northwest Michigan.

"At any given time we have about 180 children in our foster care system, providing care for more than 400 each year," said Jim Scherrer, executive director of the organization that also places an average of 50-60 special needs children and eight infants into adoptive homes each year.

Staying true to Osterlin's original mission, Child and Family Services through their foster care and adoption programs, places children into safe homes, giving them the support they need to flourish.

"CFS is really an unsung hero in our community," said longtime foster parent and CFS board member, Sheila Morgan of Traverse City.

"The agency provides a huge resource and has a tremendous impact on the people it serves," said Morgan, who along with husband Dennis, is adopting two children after more than 17 years of fostering.

"We are taking these children into our family, explaining to them that it is like a marriage, when you fall in love it is just meant to be," said Morgan, who has two grown children and two grandchildren.

"Having many children in our home has just become the norm for us," said Morgan, who has cared for "countless" children, most in sibling groups of up to seven at a time.

Tami and Jeff Cleland can relate to having a house full of kids. The Lake Ann couple, in addition to their four birth children, has adopted three siblings with the help of CFS.

"We took the class for fostering, really in hopes to adopt," said Tami, noting that they wanted to add a daughter to their young family.

"When they called and asked if we could take a sibling pair, I had to stop for a minute and check with my husband who of course said 'lets do it'," said Tami, who welcomed the 7-year-old girl and her 7-month-old brother into the family that same day in April 2006.

When the children's biological mother gave birth to another child last year, the Clelands were thrilled to include the new baby into their home that they admit is sometimes chaotic but always full of love.

"Her big sister is so glad that she has her blood sibling here to go through this journey with her," Tami said.

It was Todd Endresen's journey as an adopted child that initially peaked his interest in becoming involved with CFS. Though Endresen and his twin sister were adopted as infants in New Jersey, he joined the organization's board of directors when he moved to northern Michigan 15 years ago.

"Adoption has worked out very well for me," said Endresen who recently reconnected with his birth mother and father.

"My birth mother and my mom have developed a kind of relationship, they each validate that they each made the right decision years ago," said Endresen, noting that his experience gives him a unique perspective as a member of the community served by CFS.

"It is the best-kept secret," Endresen said.

"Most people don't realize how many kids are in foster care in northwest Michigan because there are so many fantastic homes, it never becomes a crisis," Endresen said.

In addition to foster care and adoption services, CFS offers family and pregnancy counselling programs, treatment and support for child survivors of sexual abuse, family group decision making demonstration programs and Safe Haven, a supervised visitation program for families that have experienced domestic violence.

"Safe Haven has filled a real need in our community, more than we ever realized it would," said Endresen about the program that allows safe exchange of children between custodial and non-custodial parents when face-to-face meetings can become confrontational. The program has grown from three to 43 families, serving more than 300 children ages two months to 17 years since its inception in 2004.

"Without a doubt, Safe Haven has minimized our stress and conflict," said a client in a testimonial letter about her experience with the program.

"In Safe Haven I have found a network of support that empowers me to keep the focus on my beautiful children. My children have found a community of adults who believe in them and allow them to be just who they are: My children, who are really just like your children, and grandchildren, and neighborhood children. Children whose main focus should be on growing, growing their minds, their bodies, and their spirits," she included in the letter Aranki shared with board of directors.

While Dr. Osterlin may not have envisioned the scope of programs that CFS offers today, his goal of strengthening and nurturing children and families by ensuring their safety and well-being remains the organization's focus.

"We have been responsive to our community's needs, developing more programs that are designed to keep children with their families. We encourage families to draw from our resources and from their family and community support to keep the child at home," Scherrer said.

You can link to the article in the Traverse City Record Eagle by clicking here.

Save the Dates: April 29-30, 2009 • Child Trauma Conference of Michigan

This special two-day conference titled Impact, Treatment & Interventions for Abused & Neglected Children & Youth, will feature Dr. Bruce Perry and a dozen additional experts in the field of child trauma. It will be held at Lansing Community College's new, state-of-the-art West Campus. Watch your email and for details this fall. Social Work Continuing Education Contact Hours will be offered through the Michigan Federation for Children and Families.

MAFAK calls for workshop proposals for May 1-3, 2009 Annual Training Conference

The Michigan Association for Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Parents is soliciting proposals for workshops at its spring training conference. If you or someone you know would like to apply, please download the proposal form or email MAFAK Executive Director Alma Schmidt. The conference is scheduled for May 1-3, 2009 at the Holiday Inn South, Lansing, MI. MAFAK workshop proposal form

October 6: CFSR Workshop for Federation Full and Affiliate Members

The soon-to-be federal court-sanctioned settlement agreement (October 2008) brings focus to a historic moment in the State of Michigan when a slow means of child welfare change is simply no longer acceptable and where public and private sectors must work together aggressively in order to meet the demands of the agreement. Most importantly, the agreement is a blueprint for meaningful child welfare system improvements that will result in better lives for children in Michigan.

The federal Child and Family Services Review findings and requirements are a major source of the guiding principles on which the settlement agreement has been based.

Kimberly Kerns, the CFSR Coordinator for DHS, is responsible for assuring that all child welfare agencies are up to speed on the CFSR requirements. Kim has asked for the opportunity to meet with members of the Federation, and we are happy to assist with this effort.

What:CFSR Presentation by Kimberly Kerns, CFSR Coordinator, DHS

When: Monday, October 6, 2008, 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Where: Michigan Federation for Children and Families

309 N. Washington Square, Lansing

Who should attend: Child welfare agency CEOs, Adoption Program Directors, Foster Care Program Directors, Licensing Supervisors, and Directors of Abuse/Neglect Residential Treatment

Cost: No charge; but pre-registration is required.
RSVP by 9/25/08 to: with the names, titles and email addresses of individuals who will attend from your agency

As background, please use the links below to related resources:

October 6 CFSR Workshop Invitation

Settlement Agreement

Overview of Historic Launch

Fact Card Oct 2007

Fact Card Oct 2006

Foster Care Review Board 2007 Annual Report

Program Manager positions available at LCFS

lcfslogoFAMILY PRESERVATION/FC PROGRAM MANAGER - Northern Michigan & Gaylord
Provide supervision and professional leadership to a team of supervisors and direct care workers/support staff so the functioning of the assigned program unit(s) can be accomplished.  Serve as administrative assistant to the Regional Director in various administrative responsibilities of the region and units. Click here for full job description and requirements.

PROGRAM MANAGER - Saginaw-Genesee Counties

Provide supervision and professional leadership to a team of supervisors and direct care workers/support staff so the functioning of the assigned program unit(s) can be accomplished.  Serve as administrative assistant to the Regional Director in various administrative responsibilities of the region and units. Click here for full job description and requirements.

Email your resume and cover letter to or mail to:
Roger L. Pickering, Regional Director
LCFS of Michigan
6019 West Side Saginaw Road, P.O. Box 48

Whaley Children's Center has announced Daryl Vanella as their incoming President/CEO

darylvanellaDaryl earned a Master’s in Counseling from Liberty University and has over 20 years of experience working with at-risk children and families in the fields of mental health, juvenile justice, youth services, and child and family services in both the public and private, nonprofit sectors. He holds clinical certifications and specialties in Cognitive Therapy, Trauma Informed Treatment, and Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment and post-graduate certifications from Cornell University, Michigan State University as well as the University of Michigan in crisis intervention, nonprofit leadership and business management. Welcome to the Federation, Daryl!

Added talent on the Federation staff

kadiKadi Janssen is the new intern at the Federation and is excited to be with us through the spring of 2009. Kadi just graduated with a BSW from Central Michigan University where she double majored in Social Work and Psychology. She is now attending Michigan State University to earn her Master's in Social Work. Kadi is studying organizational and community practice with a strong interest in policy as it relates to social work and child welfare. Kadi anticipates a great year with the Federation and looks forward to getting to know all of you!

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Trainings offered through MACMHB

An excellent resource for training of professionals in the mental health and substance abuse treatment fields is the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards. Go to, click on Conferences and Trainings for their complete listing and registration links. Many sessions quickly fill to capacity, so it will be important to check often and sign up early! Not yet on the web, the following sessions are offered in September (we posted them here for your convenience):

  • Overview of Co-occurring Disorders: Integrated Dual Disorders Treatment (COD:IDDT) Model, featuring Dr. Eugene Schoener, Ph.D. September 9 in Kentwood. wsu090908cod.doc
  • Introduction to Stages of Change and Treatment featuring Cheryl Madeja, M.S.W. & Motivational Interviewing featuring Mark Lowis, L.M.S.W. September 10 in Kentwood. Click here: wsu091008soc.doc
  • Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy of Substance Use Disorders for Non-Physician Clinicians, featuring Eugene Schoener, Ph.D. September 11 in Kentwood. Click here: 091108pharmacology.doc

Contact Merre Ashley, Training & Meeting Planner,

Marlee Matlin speaking at Starr's 95th anniversary

marleematlinALBION, MI - Fresh on the heels of her recent "Dancing with the Stars" appearance on ABC, award-winning actress Marlee Matlin has agreed to speak at Starr Commonwealth's Founder's Day to be held Oct. 5, 2008.

Through American Sign Language and the assistance of her personal interpreter, Matlin will address the audience of students, staff, families and friends of Starr Commonwealth as the organization celebrates its 95th anniversary.

Matlin is an Academy Award winner for her role in "Children of a Lesser God," which also happened to be her film debut. She is the first deaf actress to receive the Academy Award and one of only four distinguished actresses to do so with her film debut. Along with her Oscar, Matlin has won a Golden Globe and has been nominated numerous times for Emmy and People's Choice awards for her television roles, including "Seinfeld," "The Practice" and more. Guest star roles on "The West Wing," "My Name is Earl" and "Desperate Housewives" have contributed to Matlin's stardom and celebrity status.

A mother of four and deeply passionate about children, Matlin has hosted several educational and children's programs and appeared in Disney's "Adventures in Wonderland," "Nickelodeon's "Blues Clues" and "Baby Wordsworth," part of the "Baby Einstein" series aimed at teaching sign language to infants and toddlers. She is also the author of a series of children's books.

Matlin also is a close personal friend of Henry Winkler, last year's celebrity speaker, who has been supportive of Matlin and her career since her childhood.

"Marlee Matlin certainly has taken what some might perceive as a disability and has spoken volumes with her courage and tenacity," said Starr Commonwealth President and CEO Martin Mitchell. "She is such an inspiration to her fans and people around the world. We are very fortunate to host Ms. Matlin during our 95th anniversary."

Founder's Day is held the first Sunday of every October at Starr Commonwealth's Albion campus. The even is free and is open to the public. It marks the anniversary of founder Floyd Starr, his family and 13 boys moving into Gladsome Cottage on Oct. 3, 1913.

Starr Commonwealth is a nationally recognized children and family services nonprofit licensed by the States of Michigan and Ohio and accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Services for Families and Children. The organization serves more than 4,000 children, families and professionals through strength-based residential and community-based programs in Albion, Battle Creek and Detroit, Michigan, and Van Wert and Columbus, Ohio. Services range from specialized treatment programs, treatment foster care, day treatment, mental health therapy, substance abuse and private therapeutic residential treatment. Starr also offers a variety of training for professionals working with youth.

"Please save the date of Oct. 5 on your calendars and plan to join us for what is going to be another exceptional Founder's Day," President Mitchell said.

For more information, please call 800-937-5591 or visit


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