Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Foster kids may get better emotional health care

By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Services

LANISNG – The Department of Human Services wants to help foster children with emotional and mental health care with a $6 million federal upgrade that will allow them to be treated at home.

The department will use $1.77 million in state dollars as a match to receive an additional $6 million to provide more mental health services.

The waivers came from the Medicaid program for children who would otherwise be placed in an institution.

According to the department, more than 16,000 children are in Michigan’s foster care system.

Gisgie Gendreau, marketing and public relations director for the department, said once children are removed from their parents and enter the system, they are placed in a treatment center if they suffer emotional trauma.

“The waiver helps us provide children with care as soon as they are in the system,” Gendreau said.

The department partnered with the Department of Community Health to expand Medicaid availability for children with serious emotional problems. They now can receive intensive at-home care.

Currently, 33 such children are with a family in a home instead of a residential setting.

Michael Head, director of mental health and substance abuse administration for Community Health, said although this plan is expensive, it is cheaper than placing children in institutions and is beneficial for them.

“It helps kids live in the real world and not cooped up in a room,” Head said.

Gendreau said the program will also help children get adopted more quickly.

“Kids are more ready to meet and live with their new families and it is easier for the family to take in a new child,” she said.

Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM) provide foster families for children from birth to age 18.

The Grand Rapids-based-organization reports more than 18,000 Michigan children are in foster care because their birth families can’t provide a safe and secure home.

Laura Mitchell, director of West Michigan Child and Family Services for the LSSM, said children are often traumatized once in foster care.

The effects of abuse and neglect vary from child to child but generally can be traumatic. Children are afraid and most don’t want to talk to a therapist about the events they went through and instead misbehave.

Even though taking children out of a dangerous environment or away from a parent who is not capable of caring for them is the right thing to do, it still can have major negative effects on a child’s psyche, she said.

Mitchell said that the new partnership between the Community Health and Human Services will be a fantastic change in the system.

“This allows more services and support for both the child and the foster family,” Mitchell said.

She described a case where the mental health system improved the life of a child. An 8-year-old boy came into foster care and lived with the same family for two years. While in foster care, he suffered from emotional problems. His mother was young and unmarried, with no job, and was neglecting her child. The boy had problems at school due to neglect.

The boy had a hard time bonding with his foster family and his own mother. The boy threw tantrums and broke things.

Once the boy went to therapy with his mother, to learn how to bond with one another, everyone saw improvement. The boy got along better with the foster family and the mother started going to parenting classes and doing what was ask of her.

He returned to his mother last year around Christmas.

Mitchell said, “Every child deserves to have a forever family and a family they know.”

© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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