There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be in foster care in Michigan. And perhaps even more about what it takes to step up and become a foster parent.
One of the biggest misunderstandings we face at Holy Cross Services is the perception that children in care are only children with behavioral issues.
This could not be further from the truth. So, let us explain a little more about the realities of foster care in America and, particularly, in Michigan.
Every year more children in America enter the foster care system. The latest national numbers show that 673,000 children were in foster care in the United States last year alone.
It is an experience more people share in common that you might realize. Before a child reaches 18 years old in America, the chances are 1 in 16 that they will have been in foster care at some point in their childhood. Sadly, they have often been in foster care more than once.
Where Foster Care in Michigan stands
Michigan is no exception to these statistics. Nationwide, Michigan ranks 18th for the number of children per capita in foster care, with about 14,000 in care on any given day.
“They’re from every county, they can be from any demographic or walk of life it really doesn’t matter,” says Sharon Berkobien, CEO of Holy Cross Services.
“They’re just kids who need people who care about them, believe in them and want to help give them a better and brighter future.”
And those children are mostly young. A lot younger than you might think. The average age of a child entering foster care in the United States is just seven years old.
Nearly half are under age six
In the state of Michigan, nearly half of all the children in foster care are infants, toddlers, and preschoolers under the age of six.
At Holy Cross Services, children who are struggling in the community or having trouble in foster homes are welcomed into group residential homes.
“I don’t know if people realize that it used to be that the average age of kids being in residential was 15,” says Berkobien.
“That’s not true and hasn’t been true for number of years. Actually, our residential programs are [for] abused and neglected children with a tremendous amount of trauma and the age is getting younger and younger.
We now have kids that are six years old in care. We have an entire program for kids from six to twelve and more and more calls we get in are for six-, seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds.”
The majority of children in foster care in Michigan have been in more than one foster or group home, many in more than four homes.
While at Holy Cross Services the children gain structure, a sense of stability, support, understanding, education, and therapy and are then either reintegrated with their family or placed with a foster family.
Aging out into homelessness
At Holy Cross Services, older children in care who will soon be too old for the foster care system and still don’t have a foster family are taught life skills and independence as they transition into life on their own. When those older children do “age out” of the foster care system in Michigan, roughly 1 in 5 of them has been in foster care since they were at least 13 years old. That same number, 1 in 5, age out of the foster care system without anywhere to go and become homeless.
At any given time, there are hundreds of children waiting to be placed in foster care in Michigan. Nearly 4,000 are awaiting adoption.
Michigan needs foster families. Sharon Berkobien who, along with her husband, has fostered 22 children, says people often have misgivings about becoming a foster parent.
“In my mind it’s not scary. There’s support, there’s help, there’s foster care workers, there’s training, there’s things that you can do,” she says.
“And don’t think that you’ve got to go in and take 22. Just take one. Just do one and change the life of one. If everybody just took one, we wouldn’t have a foster care crisis in this country.”