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Bethany Christian Services expanding short-term foster care program for migrant children

kids inside a shelter
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Bethany Christian Services is looking for short-term foster care families in Holland and East Lansing as the Grand Rapids-based social services agency expands its transitional foster care program in those cities.

Bethany is looking to place migrant children who arrived in the U.S. unaccompanied, and are waiting to be reunited with family members or other sponsors. The agency has operated the transitional services in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Paw Paw since 2012.

Liz Tompkins, Bethany’s capacity manager for refugee and immigrant children’s services, says transitional foster care is an ideal alternative to large detention centers.

“Transitional foster care is a lot more hands-on and in-depth than what large-bed shelters are able to provide, simply because it is smaller and very trauma-focused,” Tompkins said.

Bethany has a government contract to place up to 114 children at a time in transitional foster care. They’re currently caring for 70-plus children on a regular basis, Tompkins said.

“There’s just a higher need, and a higher volume of kiddos coming in. So we’re looking to try and fill that need with community-based services, which we feel is best practice for this particular population of children,” Tompkins said.

“The more foster families we can have on board, the greater ability we have to reach that 114.”

Families interested in doing transitional foster care require specialized training. The program also attends to children’s medical needs, and provides schooling in Spanish.

Tompkins says the end goal is always reunification. “Bethany as an agency believes 100 percent that the best interest of the child is always with family,” she said, noting that the agency does not accept cases where children have been separated from families, something Tompkins says still “happens occasionally” despite the Trump Administration’s ending its former zero-tolerance policy.

Families interested in short-term foster care for migrant children can find more information about the program here.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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