KALAMAZOO—Western Michigan University's acclaimed Foster Youth and Higher Education Initiative will serve as the umbrella organization for a new social service program aimed at improving outcomes in infant foster care.
The effort is being made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation. The grant proposal was authored last spring by eight WMU graduate students as part of a program evaluation course taught by Dr. Rick Grinnell, professor of social work. The students who wrote the grant proposal are: Holly Barra, Jody Ickes, Kerrie Jackson, Bridget Jancarz, Brandan Mitchell, Korrine Wojcik, Dawn Wood and Genanne Zeller.
The grant will allow WMU to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Human Services as well as Bethany Christian Services, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan and Family and Children Services to achieve positive outcomes in infant foster care. The initiative provides training for 15 social workers in the nationally recognized Incredible Years program. The project's four immediate objectives are to increase parenting skills, social supports and community supports of the participants, in addition to decreasing their parenting stress levels.
Medium-term objectives are to decrease the time needed for: reunifying parents and children; temporary out of home care, and the time needed for successful adoption. Other objectives include lowering the percentage of maltreatment reoccurrence after reunification and the percentage of disrupted adoptions. Long-term objectives include reducing future costs to society for children requiring specialized services, and increasing the likelihood that children become productive future members of society.
The three-year initiative will involve more than 300 infants and toddlers in foster care, their respective biological parents and their foster parents.
"We're delighted to be a part of a great partnership that is sure to have a positive impact on our foster-care community," says Grinnell. "The students deserve accolades for putting together a fantastic proposal that will make this all possible. Their grant proposal was a demonstration of the perfect town-to-gown partnership."
The initiative is multifaceted and comprehensive with a three-year operating budget of more than $6 million. Upon successful completion of the first year, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation will invite an application for funding in the second year, with funding for a third year also available.
"It's an exciting time for us because the evidence-based parenting program is a first for Kalamazoo County," said Robert Peck, county director of the Department of Human Services. "Getting the grant is a testament to the hard work by WMU students, our local partners and foster-care providers. The program will be a great asset to the community."
Fostering Success is Western Michigan University's comprehensive program that addresses the educational needs of former foster youth. It includes:
- A direct-service component for WMU students from foster care;
- A statewide initiative, known as Fostering Success-Michigan, in which WMU and other colleges and universities are sharing best practices in higher education access, and
- A research component, which includes the "Incredible Years" initiative.
For more information on the project, contact Rob Peck, director, Michigan Department of Human Services at (269) 337-5254 or Joel Bell, children's services supervisor, Michigan DHS, (269) 779-4383.