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Director's message

Dear Friends,

March is both Women’s History Month and Social Work Month. The two are interesting to me, since most social workers are women. Ninety+ percent of the employees at Child and Family Services are (cheers to the small but mighty last 10%!). Nearly all have degrees in social work or another human services profession, and a desire to walk alongside others as they overcome the challenges of their lives.

What they don’t have yet is our society’s full respect for the job they do. It’s reflected in their pay, when many need to hold down a second job to make ends meet. Most bachelor’s-degreed workers new to the profession make about $40,000 a year, a little over $19 an hour. Sometimes it takes our workers years to reach that wage. Some of our employees’ kids make more than that at Burger King or Target. It’s reflected in how they are often treated in court, their professional opinions disregarded and their characters attacked. And it’s especially reflected in the fact that no matter how hard they work, how much of themselves they put into it, some situations they cannot fix. The stress is high, as is the level of burnout. Many end up leaving the profession altogether.

But the Traverse City Record-Eagle’s recent special section on Women’s History Month paid tribute to women’s stories and successes. It features women in the arts, in the nonprofit world, in business, women of many ages and backgrounds, and what inspires them, what makes them tick. It includes yours truly, too. Click to read this inspiring feature.

Our blog post this month also features my book recommendations to help celebrate women and their stories. Click to see! They are just a small sampling but a great way to incorporate more women writers into your reading list. Book group, anyone?

Finally, this month also gave us the opportunity to be part of a sister nonprofit organization’s work. Parallel 45, a cutting-edge theater company, offered a Reading Series the past couple of months, featuring works read by actors on stage—no sets, no “acting” per se—each of which highlighted a social or environmental issue. In “talkbacks,” panels offered post-play, representatives from local organizations discussed their work to address the particular issue. I was honored to represent CFS and our work after the play Smokefall. Thanks to CFS Board Member/Parallel 45 Development Director Debbie Hershey for the invitation. If you are looking for a non-CFS organization to support, Parallel 45 would be a good one.

Be well in these late winter/early spring days.


Gina Aranki, Executive Director

Social Work Appreciation Month

In what career does one apply skills such as empathy, active listening, critical thinking, and cultural competence every single day? And what career is also fraught with challenges, struggles and rare rewards? The answer is: social work. As a multi-faceted child welfare agency, CFS employs many social workers throughout our programs. One such employee was Joanie Hazelton, LMSW.

Joanie worked at CFS for fourteen years, first in our VOCA program serving clients who were victims of crimes until 2003, then in our Behavioral Health department where she began her counseling career, primarily serving our child welfare clients. During this time, she returned to school and completed her master’s degree in Social Work through Grand Valley State University. She resigned from CFS in 2010 when she was offered a faculty position at Ferris State University. Joanie said that there are many benefits to having a social work degree. “There is so much you can do with it! You're not limited and can go in many different directions professionally. I never had higher ed on my radar but through connections I was offered the job and it worked out.” 

CFS Board Member Joanie Hazelton, LMSW

Joanie returned to CFS as a board member in July 2019. She stated, “I love CFS. As soon as I could come back in some capacity, I did.” She went on to say that CFS is a very nurturing environment, with a great team, support and flexibility. Self-care and strong support systems are crucial for social workers, and, “Self-care was practiced at CFS before it was a thing!,” remarked Joanie.

When asked her reason for becoming a social worker, Joanie stated that she always had an interest in family systems and people's stories. “I had three brothers who were adopted internationally, so I learned about trauma background from them,” she said. She added that social work looks at the whole person and their environment instead of just one part, which is a unique aspect of the career.

Social work can be a tough career in many ways. “You could be doing the best work for someone, and you bump up against systems and you have to watch people not be able to move forward due to money or politics. The job can be overwhelmingly sad.” Joanie noted this as one of the greatest challenges she has faced. However, social work can be rewarding as well. Getting to work alongside others and having the opportunity to inspire them, seeing people succeed, and meeting all the new social work students each semester are just a few of the positives Joanie has experienced throughout her career.

To future social workers she advises, “Take care of yourself, and make sure you have a good support team.” Social workers can experience secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout if self-care is not made a priority. Many social workers also have a history of trauma, which can be a driving force for entering the field, but having unresolved issues can affect a social worker’s ability to do their job. Joanie added, “Make sure you’ve got your own stuff in order. It is going to crop up if you don't deal with it.” 

Joanie believes it is an exciting time to be a social worker for many reasons. In recent years social workers have been provided the opportunity to work with other professions such as law enforcement and medicine to help meet the needs of vulnerable people. "I'm really energized about it," Joanie commented. She is optimistic that these recent advances will inspire others to continue making positive changes. "My hope is that helping professionals, like social workers, will make what they need and get more respect for the work they do. If not, we won't have them." 

What Does it Take to be a Foster Parent?

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 kids end up going back home to their parents? 

The child welfare staff at CFS aren’t here to sugarcoat things– being a foster parent is no small task. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever do. But the fact is, foster parents should (and do) get attached–in fact, that’s the whole point. Allowing yourself to get attached to a child means that you've 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. Being a foster parent is hard, of course, but it can also be incredibly rewarding.

When someone chooses to become licensed for foster care through CFS, they’ll receive training, support, and understanding every step of the way. Potential foster parents are able to list their preferences right from the beginning–whether you want to foster teens or young children, one child or a sibling group. Maybe you’re interested in helping kids with specific needs like LGBT support, grief and loss, developmental delays or medical diagnoses. No matter what your skill set, we guarantee that with over 10,000 children in foster care in Michigan alone, there is a child out there just waiting for your specific brand of love, patience, and nurturing. So while yes, it does take a special kind of person to be a foster parent, we urge you to ask yourself–could that special person be you? 

Click to learn more or call us at


Always A Parent

Karen McCarthy, MA, LLPC

How do you handle it when your young child has a meltdown? How do you get your older child to take responsibility? How do you manage communicating with your co-parent? How can you speak effectively when you’re emotional? 

These questions and more are answered in the Always A Parent class offered by Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan, taught by Karen McCarthy, MA, LLPC. Karen has decades of experience working with children, as a parent, educator, nanny, and counselor. She conducts the class with empathy and humor, and encourages participants to contribute their own wisdom. 

The class is offered the last two Thursday mornings of every month, from 9am-12noon, via Zoom. The cost is $100, and for that fee participants receive both sessions of the class, a packet of two dozen handouts of information, and a certificate of completion. Financial assistance is available at times to those that apply. Special sessions of the class have been arranged on weekday evenings for those who cannot attend on Thursday mornings. 

In the class, we talk about positive, effective discipline and how it differs from punishment-and-reward systems. We discuss attachment theory and how important it is to help children feel safe and connected.

Trauma and resilience are explored, as well as the effects of violence, and the brain science of how emotions affect behavior. We talk about body safety and healthy relationships, techniques for raising children to be responsible, and skills for parents to communicate with each other and with their children. 

Parenting is difficult, and anyone can benefit from learning ways to make it easier and more peaceful. People who have taken the class have consistently given it high ratings in feedback surveys, and participants have often made connections with each other for ongoing support.

Click to learn more and register

You can also email or call Karen: 231.715.1166

YouthWork Update

This month, members of the YouthWork team were grateful to attend the 2023 Corps Network Conference in Washington D.C. This was the first in-person conference held by the association since 2020. Nationwide conservation staff gathered to share time-tested expertise, innovative ideas, and inspiring stories from programs all over. A variety of constructive sessions were held, allowing YouthWork to gain well-rounded insight, perfectly accommodating its evolving practices and growing potential. Throughout the event speakers and panelists facilitated larger conversations that included professor and filmmaker Dr. Gilda Sheppard, author and attorney Gyasi Ross, former New Mexico politician and current US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, activist and former president of the Black Prisoners’ Caucus Kimonti Carter, and many more influential leaders within our national community. These discussions focused on fostering inclusive environments within our programs, welcoming all communities into the corps experience and empowering marginalized youth into leadership positions throughout national conservation efforts. 

Mary Williams and Amanda Scott in Washington D.C.

This urgent discourse resonated powerfully with YouthWork, as the program continues to expand intentional partnerships with diverse Michigan communities. These partnerships extend experiences to youth who wouldn't typically be engaged in the field, allowing them to significantly impact public lands near home and throughout the state. 

YouthWork values the support it receives from all project partners, and its admin team is honored to highlight ongoing endeavors with the US Forest Service (USFS) and SER Metro-Detroit, as well the program’s developing plans this upcoming summer. Since 2021, YouthWork has been able to join forces with SER Metro, recruiting Detroit youth to serve within forests and parks across Michigan. Throughout its eastern region, the USFS’s Urban Connections program and its coordinator, Lisa Perez, also aim to engage urban communities and build alliances that amplify the Forest Service mission of “Caring for the Land and Serving People”.

To build upon this shared goal, YouthWork, with support from SER Metro, Urban Connections, and four Tribal Nations, plans to recruit BIPOC youth from both urban Southeast Michigan and the rural indigenous communities of Northern MI, to serve within National Forests during the summer of 2023. This growing, synergistic initiative will not only complete vital projects, impacting vast acreages of National Forests, but also allow for cultural exchanges between a diverse range of youth, connected through the most beautiful and historic lands in Michigan. 

These essential projects will provide youth with versatile lifelong skillsets which include restoring shorelines and riverbanks, correcting erosion, mitigating invasive species, maintaining wildlife openings, enhancing young forests, and improving trail systems. The service will take place in ecologically breathtaking environments like the Hiawatha and Huron-Manistee National Forests, and encompass activities within culturally rich and historically significant areas like Idlewild, once known as Michigan’s “Black Eden.” Taking new perspectives—gained from the D.C. conference—into consideration, YouthWork hopes to witness the continued positive outcomes of these partnerships, seeing youth from all backgrounds take pride in their culture, share it with others, and feel empowered to take on proactive leadership within their communities. 

To learn more about YouthWork, to apply or share the application link, click here.

Click to watch speakers at the Corps Network 2023 Conference!

Sally Oleson Joins the Board!

What is your “Why” for being part of the Child and Family Services (CFS) Board of Directors?

CFS offers essential services that have had a history of successfully helping children and families for many years. As a new board member I look forward to being a part of the excellent CFS team. As someone that was born and raised in the Traverse City area, I have always admired the work that CFS does and I’m hoping to have a direct impact. 

Tell us about yourself:

I am the co-owner and controller of Elite Custom Painting of Northern Michigan. We have been servicing Northern Michigan since 1990. I love the team I work with and the beautiful houses that we are able to turn into homes. We have had many projects showcased in the Parade of Homes and area magazines over the years.

My husband and I were both born and raised in the Traverse City area and feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful community. We have four adult children, one grandson and one on the way! I love the water, golfing, dancing, our family and being with friends.

I believe if we all do a little bit, big things can happen!

Upcoming Events

Announcing our first ever Youth Art Exhibit! We are asking parents, caseworkers, therapists, and staff to let the kids in your life know about this event so that they can start submitting artwork to be featured in a gallery showcase April 21-22. The theme is "Earth Day." Submissions are being accepted through April 15, and can be dropped off or mailed to the CFS office on Veteran's Drive. Save the date for the artist reception on Friday, April 21 from 5-7pm at the Crooked Tree Arts Center at 322 Sixth Street in Traverse City. The show is free to attend. If you have questions, or want to help with this event by volunteering or sponsoring prizes, please email Emma Smith at 

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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