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Director's Message

Dear Friends,

Even though May has ended, we can reflect on its role as Mental Health and Foster Care Awareness Month. These areas of vital human services are facing major challenges, both separately and together, and not just when the spotlight is on.

Here’s how the two converge: when a child in foster care, traumatized by his life’s experiences that include sex trafficking, substance abuse, and self-harm, lashes out at his foster family with threats and ends up in the emergency room. He’s in need of a residential placement for psychiatric/behavioral health care but there is no place in the state of Michigan that is appropriate that can take him; there are no beds available. There is almost always a wait for those beds that exist, and there are not as many as there used to be and not nearly enough for the need. The population we serve largely relies on Medicaid, and there are few mental/behavioral health care providers that serve Medicaid clients because the reimbursement rate for many insurers has dipped to a shocking $37.50 per session. Who can live off such a deplorably low rate for these important services? The need is high, yet providers can’t afford to do this work for the most vulnerable. 

Lest we forget, mental health is often tied very closely to substance use disorder. If you know of a young person struggling with saying no to substances, refer them to our YES summer program (details below). You can also support CFS’ suicide prevention and awareness efforts by participating in Northern Angler’s Cheese Cup Fly Fishing Tournament this Saturday! Click for details. As I processed the death of another young person this week, the son of a friend and colleague who by all accounts was a big-hearted, wonderful man who loved his family and life but could not kick fentanyl, I realized how many people I know who share the awful experience of either overdose or suicide (or both). 

The system of mental health care/substance use disorder treatment is too complex to be able to describe all the barriers and challenges in this short space. But it will come back to bite us if we don’t do more to address our lack of good quality care for everyone who needs it. More people will end up in hospitals and jails and prisons without the right treatment for their conditions. More people will leave the workforce in a world where labor is already at a premium in nearly every field. More will die. These are much more costly outcomes than prevention and action upstream.

Thank you for all you do to help us advocate for and provide mental health care to our friends and neighbors. Please continue!


Gina Aranki, Executive Director

Our Wraparound Program Gives Families

Resources and Hope.

Child and Family has been providing Wraparound Services in Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties for 16 years. We work with families whose children have been diagnosed with Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED) and could be at risk for out-of-home placement based on their higher needs. Wrap families may also be experiencing poverty, inadequate housing, domestic violence, physical or mental illness, substance abuse, trauma, unemployment, and learning or other disabilities. Wraparound helps a family bring their “people” together, forming the Child and Family Team. The Team meets regularly and develops a plan that uses the family’s strengths to work towards their self-selected goals. These plans are dynamic and adapt to a family’s changing circumstances. Building trust and rapport takes time. It’s a hilly and thoughtful journey, but once we get going, Wrap is action-oriented and hands-on. Wrap Team members help with any number of tasks and help families build their skills along the way. The strategies are as varied and unique as each family, and families begin to believe that things will get better. 

Community collaboration is another foundation of the Wraparound model. Our work is woven in with that of helpers from schools, courts, relief groups, and health/mental health care providers. These partners always show up with creative and caring attitudes.

One partner that has been there for many Wraparound families is Reining Liberty Ranch (RLR). We discovered Reining Liberty in 2010 while seeking help for a Wraparound client who was really struggling, and whose team was running out of ideas. In spite of all that the veterans and founders of Reining Liberty had on their plate, they didn't hesitate to sit down to talk about our client's needs and what RLR could do to help.

What followed was not just life changing for the client and her family –it also led to a partnership program that allowed numerous Wraparound youth to learn, grow, and heal every year for 13 years and is still going strong.

Reining Liberty took what they were already doing for veterans in programs like Horses for Heroes, and tailored it to help other groups in need. In the two-pronged program, our Wraparound youth spend half their time in therapeutic riding and relational horsemanship activities. The power of this experience for most of our youth is transformative. The remaining time is spent doing educational and fun service projects at the Ranch. These activities are often designed and led by veterans and other volunteers, providing mentorship, and showing kids what "service above self" looks like. The veterans of Reining Liberty are using their many diverse skills to create a healing oasis for their fellow servicemen and women and for others in the community who seek refuge from trauma. 

Thanks to our grant funding from Eagles for Children through the Traverse City Country Club and other generous donors, the Reining Liberty/Wraparound program now holds sessions three times a year in the spring, summer, and fall.

Click to learn more about our Wraparound program.

Foster Care:

The Hidden Need in Your Community.

Most of us shy away from the idea of foster parenting. It’s daunting just thinking about caring for a child who’s experienced neglect and abuse. We worry about the behaviors they’ll have and whether or not we’ll be able to meet their needs. We wonder whether they’ll get along with our own children or if they could disrupt family stability.

And then there’s perhaps the scariest question of all: What happens if we get too attached and the child ends up going back home to their parents?

Having worked in the field of child welfare for over a decade, I’ve been on the receiving end of all sorts of questions and curiosities from people wondering how it all works. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike have asked me things like, “Is there actually a need for foster parents in northern Michigan?” Or, “Are you really seeing the effects of the opioid epidemic here?” Many folks can’t believe that homeless families even exist in Traverse City, a tourist destination with seemingly obvious affluence.

These inquiries do not bother me. Rather, they excite me. I am the type of person who not only welcomes discussions about foster care (and the various societal factors to which it can be attributed) but who also relishes the opportunity to talk anyone and everyone’s ear off about it.

That said, these questions do make me realize that those of us in the field of social work, and specifically child welfare, need to do a better job of communicating with our community to help them understand that the need does indeed exist in our own backyard.

There are a variety of reasons why a parent may no longer be able to adequately care for their child, thus resulting in the need for foster care. These reasons could include unmet mental health needs, physical health problems, issues with substance use, a lack of resources, or some combination of the four.

It’s important to note that foster care is not meant to be a long-term solution. Studies show that, in general, when children are raised in the same home as their biological parents, they are significantly more likely to avoid poverty and prison, as well as to graduate from college (Institute for Family Studies, 2021).

So, whenever possible, children returning back home to their parents is the preferred outcome of foster care. There are cases, of course, in which this is not possible. And in those instances, a child is often adopted by the foster family.

I’m not here to sugarcoat anything; being a foster parent is a huge undertaking. For the reasons that people think, yes, but also because there’s still a lot of stigma attached to the job. Not only do foster parents have to navigate a confusing, complex hellscape of a legal system while raising children who have significant trauma histories, but they do it for very, very little financial incentive. This is despite the caricatures you may have seen in the media depicting lazy, uncaring foster parents who are “just in it for the money.” It is unacceptable that foster parents have to deal with this stigma, along with all the other ludicrous judgments thrown their way from people in glass houses.

The fact is, foster parents are people—the vast majority are good people. And to circle back to my opening statement, they should (and do) get attached; in fact, that’s the whole point. Allowing yourself to get attached to a child means that you treated them as your own, and you’ve shown them what it means to be loved and cared for in the way they deserve. A foster parent may be the first safe attachment in a child’s life, which paves the way for them to form other healthy attachments later on.

When someone chooses to become licensed for foster care, they’ll receive training, support, and understanding at every step of the way. Potential foster parents are able to list their preferences right from the beginning, whether they want to foster teens or infants, one child or a sibling group. Maybe there’s a potential foster parent out there who has expertise in helping kids with things like LGBTQ+ support, grief and loss, culturally-specific needs, or developmental delays.

No matter what the skill set or background, you could have what it takes to be a great foster parent. I can guarantee that with over 10,000 children in foster care in Michigan alone, there is a child out there just waiting to be matched with a family who doesn’t even know that their particular brand of love, patience, and nurturing is exactly what that child has been waiting for.

By Emma Smith from the May 13 issue of the Northern Express.

Click to learn more about becoming a foster parent!

Helping Empower Youth and Young Adults

Youth Services Counselor Ann Ronayne pictured with her therapy dog Greta

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949. While the past month is meant to bring attention to all facets of mental health, there is often a specific issue or population needing focused attention. This year, and likely for several more to come, the challenges of folks 12 to 20 years old are particularly concerning. Anxiety and depression have risen to levels well beyond what we might consider “normal” for this population, causing academic struggles, violence, and persistent thoughts of suicide. 

While therapy is important, concerned adults without clinical training can feel powerless to help. Fortunately, all adults can provide valuable support. Science tells us that relationships in which a young person feels seen, heard, and understood can significantly reduce their risk of substance abuse, violence, and suicide. Individual adults can connect with youth as tutors, volunteers in youth-serving programs or schools, or with in-person support for local school competitive activities. As a group, concerned adults can work to make sure that the care and guidance of young people in their communities is a strong cultural value. Far from being powerless, all adults can provide support for the young people around them.

Our Behavioral Health and Youth Services departments have been working tirelessly for many years to meet this need. Our therapists are trauma-trained to provide the highest level of care to our clients. One program that has expanded prevention services to meet the needs of these youth is Youth Empowerment for Success (YES). The YES program is a free 10-week counseling program that addresses young people’s stressors and mental health challenges and lowers the risk of substance abuse. 

Youth and young adults ages 12-20 in Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties can self-refer, or be referred by parents, coaches, teachers, school personnel, physicians, or other concerned adults. 

Substance use touches everyone in one way or another; no population is immune. As teen substance use continues to rise, and we hear about overdoses in the media, or from friends and neighbors, this program becomes more and more necessary. By imparting needed education to teens and their parents and guardians, providing counseling, and helping youth build their support systems, we hope to help reduce substance use and increase community awareness of this crisis. 

YES summer sessions begin the week of June 19. Click to learn more and sign up.

Congratulations To Our 2023 Graduates!

Each year we all celebrate kids in our lives that are graduating from high school. It's an accomplishment, but for many kids in our Child and Family Services family, the accomplishment is huge. These kids have overcome major obstacles, and at times for some it felt impossible.

This year we have 15 amazing young people who have overcome hurdles including but not limited to homelessness, substance abuse, learning disabilities, and/or physical, mental, and emotional abuse at the hands of those who are meant to be their most staunch supporters. Many times they are facing a combination of several of these obstacles. While CFS provides services to help these youth work through past trauma and accomplish their goals, the credit for this achievement sits squarely on the shoulders of these kids who, despite anything they may have experienced, continue to strive for what they want and deserve. We recognize their hard work, determination, and accomplishments! To say we are proud of these strong, intelligent, resilient young people is a gross understatement. Congratulations!

Spring Clean Up

A huge shout out to all those that volunteered for our Spring Clean up! We pulled out old plants and bushes, redesigned and planted new plants, spread new mulch, weeded, cleaned inside and outside of the building, and painted the play structure! And you may have noticed the brand new sidewalk. Special thanks to staff, YouthWork members, and volunteers; to TCLP, who provided initial grant funds for the landscaping; to Inhabitec, who donated time and expertise; and Birdsfoot Native Nursery, who supplied us with beautiful, climate-resilient native plants.

Upcoming Events

Tomorrow is the Cheese Cup! This amazing Northern Angler event benefits Child and Family Services, specifically our Suicide Prevention Trainings, in honor of Alex Hawke. Click to sign up and learn more.

Foster parents needed! Join us virtually to learn more! Our licensing staff will explain the process of becoming a foster parent and answer any questions you may have. The process is easier than you think! Consider helping today!

Virtual Intro To Fostering Wednesday, June 7th at 12pm Click to learn more and register.

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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