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Director's message

Dear Friends,

My older son, who just turned 25 (?!), was born on Earth Day. From the time he and his younger brother were small, going to the beach was a big pastime for our family. We love to swim and kayak and sunbathe and listen to the waves and explore. We love salt and freshwater. Most vacations involved the beach in some way, even when we visited cities. And beaches also meant that we left them cleaner than how we found them.

At first it was a struggle. My kids still tease me for the times I tried to turn portions of our vacations into learning experiences by signing us up for volunteer activities. In other words, they resisted, like most kids do when you try to get them to do things they don’t want to do. But it’s our vacation, they’d whine.

Until I realized, on a particular beach on a particular vacation when neither of them were babies anymore, that they were picking up trash. Without being asked.

That was a proud parenting moment, I must say. 

I love that CFS is internalizing this green ethic, the notion that there are all sorts of small things we can do to reduce our impact on the earth. From eating more vegetables to growing plants indoors to turning the lights off when we leave the room, we can all do our part. Many thanks to our Green Team for getting us going on this journey. Read more about our efforts below.

What does Earth Day and the greening of CFS mean to our main work of child/youth/family welfare? Simply put, a cleaner, healthier planet means healthier people. Extreme weather events are becoming more and more the norm rather than the exception. Hotter temperatures, air pollution, and violent storms lead to many dangers for children, including difficulty breathing, malnutrition, and higher risk of infectious diseases. Even where people are fortunate not to be experiencing extreme weather events, “low-income communities have higher rates of adverse health conditions, are exposed to more environmental hazards, and take longer to recover from natural disasters” (from a Record Eagle op-ed written by CFS Board Member Nicola Philpott, May 2022). 

So celebrate Earth Day every day, and do your part for our kids and families—and yourselves.


Gina Aranki, Executive Director

Child Abuse Prevention Month

In recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month, we spoke with Aprille Sutton, CFS Child Welfare Director, about statewide and regional efforts to reduce the number of children coming into foster care. 

Q: What would you say are the primary reasons that children end up in foster care? 

A: Primarily, we see parents with unmet mental health needs, facing problems with substance use, a lack of resources, or a combination of all three. These all contribute to kids coming into care. It’s often a cycle, where parents have been raised in a certain environment and then project that onto their kids. That’s why early intervention is so important. 

Q: What kinds of intervention strategies do child welfare professionals typically use to prevent removal of children from their natural parents?

A: The sooner a need can be identified when a family is having problems, the sooner we can work toward reducing barriers. There are a number of services that can be put in place such as parenting education, budgeting/resource management education, or family preservation programs such as Wraparound. Maybe it's getting teachers, coaches, or other reliable adults  in the child’s life to help problem-solve. All of those things can help in getting a family back on track. The more support a family has, the stronger that family will be when they hit a rough patch. 

Q: Michigan has seen a decline in the number of kids placed into foster care in the last couple of years. To what do you attribute this?

A: I would attribute part of it to the pandemic, and also a push from the state to utilize those prevention services for families who are at risk. If it can be safe, kids staying with their parents is always the best option. CFS continues to look for ways to support kids and families in their natural homes whenever possible. 

CFS Child Welfare Director Aprille Sutton,


Q: What kinds of things should the average person be aware of when considering how to prevent child abuse or neglect? 

A: Well, there are obvious warning signs, and there are things that are not so obvious. Obvious signs include unexplained physical injuries, marks or bruising, or encopresis/enuresis (incontinence) where there wasn’t any before. The not so visible signs include withdrawing from friends and activities, changes in behavior such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity. You might also see changes in school performance, depression, anxiety, or unusual fears. Sometimes a parent’s behavior can send warning signs about child abuse, too. If you notice a parent is showing little concern for their child, is unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in a child, blames the child, uses harsh physical discipline or has unrealistic expectations, that can also be a red flag. However, it’s important to remember that specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse, and just because you see warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean the child is being abused. 

Q: If someone observes a child who shows several of these signs, what should they do? 

A: If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you should contact Centralized Intake to report your concerns (855-444-3911). It’s kind of the old saying, if you see something, say something. Sometimes, when you see something, you might just assume that someone else will report it or is handling it, but that’s not always the case. If everyone thought that way, neglect and abuse would never be reported. Always remember that you can make a difference in the life of a child and your voice matters. It takes a village! 

If you suspect a child in your life is experiencing abuse or neglect, contact centralized intake by calling (855) 444-3911. For further guidance about whether or not you should call, read this CFS blog post.

Safe Haven

The only program of its kind in northern Michigan

Safe Haven is a supervised visitation and safe exchange program. Our specialized services are intended for families experiencing domestic violence or high conflict.

We talked to Autumn Sleder, CFS Safe Haven Program Supervisor about assessing trauma in working with Safe Haven clients. Here’s what she had to say:

"We ask clients a series of questions during orientation so we can better understand what they have experienced. I must note that trauma is never used as an excuse for harmful behavior, but it does help us understand why people may respond the way they do. Research has shown that trauma not only affects our development, but also our physical and mental health. It can paralyze us so that we can’t function when we become overly stressed. It contributes to impulsive, erratic, or compulsive behavior. It can also heighten awareness like wild animals watching their surroundings for danger. 

Growing up in a household where there was mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence, I am all too aware of how these experiences shaped me.

CFS Safe Haven Program Supervisor Autumn Sleder

The way I interpret my experiences can alter how I view the world, and I want to believe in a world where we are all doing the best we can. Resentment often leads to dangerous places, whereas positivity can ripple into successful and meaningful outcomes."

Safe Haven facilitated 1,944 supervised visits and safe exchanges in FY 2022.

Click to learn more about Safe Haven. Want to help support our services? Click here.

Green Team Update

The CFS Green Team, co-led by Tara Ward and Nicola Philpott, has influenced many environmentally-friendly CFS upgrades and events since its start. Through a state grant, CFS was able to develop an Energy Action Plan, make energy efficient improvements to our heating and cooling systems, do some energy-saving lighting upgrades, and more. Improvements like this help us save money so that we can spend it on serving clients! We have adopted a goal of reducing waste as well, and we invested in recycled, reusable water bottles and coasters for staff and event giveaways.

This month the Green Team contributed to two Earth Day- inspired events. The Earth Day Youth Art exhibit hosted by Crooked Tree Arts Center displayed art created by youth of all ages in our programs. This event was open to the public and drew quite a crowd.

The second event is our Earth Day Item Swap which is happening this week. Staff were encouraged to bring in gently used unwanted items to be swapped with others. Clothes, shoes, books, games or anything else that can be carried will be included in this swap.

Everything left at the end of the swap will be donated. Not only will this help all of us get a jump start on our spring cleaning, but it will also prevent many of these items from ending up in the landfill. 

Board Spotlight

Nicola Philpott has served on the Board of Directors of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan since January 2021. Nicola has a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology, and previously worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota. She is also a volunteer Group Leader with Grand Traverse Area Citizens' Climate Lobby.

Both Nicola's mom and sister are in social work so she had some knowledge of the great work being done and she wanted to support CFS in any way she could. Nicola began her journey with CFS by volunteering during our Paper Angels campaign in 2016.

She continued volunteering for 5 years before joining the Board of Directors. She said, “There are such wonderful people at CFS, I wanted to do more to support the great work they are doing.” Nicola has been co-leading the CFS Green Team since its inception in October 2021, helping CFS to become more “Green” and environmentally efficient.

Nicola recently started a chapter of VegMichigan here in Traverse City to promote the environmental, health and ethical benefits of plant-based eating. Earlier this year Nicola organized a collaboration between CFS and VegMichigan-TC. CFS staff who pledged to eat less meat for a month were given free bags of plant-based food. Twenty six staff members participated.


Nicola is the mom of 2 boys who have also helped volunteer at CFS, along with her husband Mark, and was President of Westwoods Elementary School PTO where she coordinated and raised funds for the Westwoods solar panel project.

Nicola pictured with her boys

CFS is Credentialed Again!

This February, CFS was audited for accreditation renewal by CARF, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. CARF is an independent, nonprofit accreditor of health and human services agencies around the world. It publishes internationally-recognized standards of excellence and checks agencies wishing to get accredited against over 2,000 standards. We are pleased to say that CFS lived up to nearly all standards examined, receiving the highest result—a three-year accreditation renewal!

But what does CARF accreditation really mean? Put simply, it means that CFS is consistently using best practices in its work. This means its work with clients, work with staff, work in accurate record-keeping, work in community relations, and work in each of the programs CARF closely examined (Foster and Kinship Care, Respite, Adoption, Wraparound, Counseling, and Pete’s Place). Getting this accreditation renewal means that staff in all these programs are faithfully following practices and protocols recommended by this esteemed organization.

Not only are CFS staff working as hard as they can, but they are also working as smart as they can, using the guidance of this experienced organization to document and demonstrate that this is the case.

Kudos to all CFS staff members who work so hard to establish and continue internationally-recognized best practices at our agency, and to Kim Whitley, our Child Welfare Compliance Manager, who corralled the reams of information needed. While it is a thrill to get such an honor, the true merit of CARF accreditation is the assurance that we at CFS are doing our best to reach our ultimate goal—serving our clients in the best manner possible.

Earth Day Art Exhibit

Thank you to all who were able to attend our Earth Day Youth Art Exhibit at Crooked Tree Arts Center! It was a great event that featured art created by CFS kids. A special thanks to Crooked Tree for hosting us, and to all that came out, donated, volunteered, or created art. We had fun viewing the art while enjoying live music from Jimmy Olson. Here are some of the pictures from this fun event.

Thank You

A very special thank you to our first quarter Grantors (January- March 2023). Your generous funding makes a huge difference in the lives of the children, youth, and families we serve. We couldn't do this very important work without you. Thank you...

  • Area Agency on Aging Northern Michigan
  • Benzie County Community Chest
  • Big Lots Foundation of the Columbus Foundation
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation; Olson Child and Family Services Endowment
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation; Gwendolyn J. Olson Scholarship Fund
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation; Jacob Nicholas Rickers Endowment Fund
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation; Falconer Endowment
  • Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation; F. Gordon and Jean Cornwell Memorial Endowment
  • Rotary Charities of Traverse City
  • The Art and Mary Schmuckal Foundation
  • The Presbyterian Church of Traverse City
  • Walmart Foundation

Upcoming Events

Join us May 9, from

4:30-6:30pm, for an in-person suicide prevention training!

The QPR mission is to reduce suicidal behaviors and save lives by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. The signs of crisis are all around us. This quality education can make a positive difference in the life of someone struggling.

Click for more information or to register.

Free 10-week counseling program addresses young

people’s stressors and mental health challenges, and lowers the risk of substance abuse.YES uses a person-centered, solution-focused brief therapy model that can be a powerful intervention for

young people who are struggling with day-to-day issues.

Click to learn more and register.

May 13th 10-2pm

Come see us at G.T. Butterfly House & Bug Zoo in Williamsburg. It's a super-fun place to visit, and while you are there, stop and see us at our information table to learn more about foster and adoptive parenting and all things CFS! Free ice cream ticket to those that stop by our table and chat with us! Click for more information.

Donate Today

Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan

3785 Veterans Drive, Traverse City | (231) 946-8975

3434 M-119, Ste F, Harbor Springs | (231) 347-4463

Pete's Place | (231) 922-4800   | 

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