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Macomb County

September 28, 2011

Need for foster parents is critical in Macomb County

By Robin Ruehlen
C & G Staff Writer

MACOMB COUNTY — Being a foster parent doesn’t require perfection. It does require patience, love and a willingness to welcome children in need into one’s home and family.

And with more than 6,000 children in foster care in the tri-county area, the need for foster families is critical.

Cassandra Thomas, a licensing supervisor with the Macomb County Department of Human Services, said the agency especially needs families who are willing to care for sibling groups, children of color and children with special needs.

“One of things we struggle with is the ability to keep kids within their home community when they enter foster care,” she said. “Studies indicate that moving to another community can become very detrimental and challenging, because they are already losing what is so important and comforting to them — their parents and their families.”

According to the Michigan Department of Human Services, there were 366 investigations of complaints, 89 cases of confirmed child abuse and 134 confirmed victims in July. Unfortunately, these numbers are expected to grow, and the need for caring foster families in the tri-county area already cannot meet the current need.

On Sept. 24, the MDHS and the Tri-County Foster Coalition launched the first annual Feet on the Street for Children walk at Wayne County Community College to help raise awareness on how to become a foster or adoptive parent.

Thomas said the MDHS provides an in-depth orientation and training process to help prepare families for welcoming foster children into their homes, as well as a mentor program that pairs seasoned foster parents with new ones for additional support.

“The training is designed to answer all your questions and put you in the best possible position to prepare for the merger,” she said. “There is some level of anxiety associated with the unknown, but our experienced mentors can relate to our new foster parents and help coach them through the process, their training and assessments.”

Clinton Township residents Marge and Mark Touchette first became foster parents to a baby girl six years ago — and immediately fell in love with her.

“We already had one child, but we started our family later in life. I felt like I had more room and more time and love for another kid, so we thought we would just foster,” Marge said.

She is now their adopted daughter. The Touchettes continue to be emergency foster parents for babies at night and on the weekends when agencies are closed.

“The kids we get, we usually have to pick up from the police station if they are removed from a home after hours,” she said.

“They stay with us until we can find a family member or another more permanent home.”

The family has fostered 10 children in the past six years.

“It’s rewarding, and yet sad at times, to see the situations that these little babies come from,” she said.

“I love them and take care of them like my own, and then I have to let them go and wish them the best. I don’t know where they go after that — you’re not privy to that information, and it’s none of your business. You’re just supposed to take care of them while you have them.”

The entire licensing and training process takes about one year, and includes background checks and home assessments, she said.

“I think as long as you have patience and you’re levelheaded, you can find a way to relate to kids in any age group,” she said.

“It’s not about experience, but patience and love is what they need.”

Although some children are available for adoption in the foster system, Touchette cautions that it isn’t always the case.

“You could have a kid for one or two years, and then they go back home. The cases don’t always in end adoption, because the goal is to unify (the child) with the family. That can be hard when you fall in love with kids,” she said.

“However, it’s very rewarding to know that you can actually change a child’s life, no matter how long you have that child. You were an adult who cared about them and they could trust. You really can make a difference. I don’t believe it’s ever too late, no matter how old these kids are.”

For more information on becoming a foster parent, mentoring a child or other DHS services, visit www.michigan.gov/dhs, email macombdhslicensing@michigan.gov or call (586) 469-5834.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robin Ruehlen at rruehlen@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1105.