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New foster care program coming

October 8, 2012
Andrew Westrope - News Staff Writer , The Alpena News

Starting next year, and in cooperation with Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health, the Department of Human Services child welfare offices, and local family courts, Child and Family Services of Northeast Michigan will offer a specialized foster care program for children with emotional issues in Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties as an alternative to residential placement in far away treatment facilities.

Based on the program's success in Iosco, Ogemaw and Oscoda counties, local professionals have pushed to bring "Specialized Treatment Foster Care" to the area as a more effective treatment than residential placement with more family involvement, considerable cost savings, and a much lower rescidivism rate. CFS currently is training staff, developing the format, and recruiting foster parents for the program and expects to begin enrolling kids by March.

Specialized Treatment Foster Care is modeled after "Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care," an evidence-based, one-on-one intensive treatment program developed in the 1970s in Oregon to treat children with emotional problems. CFS Treatment Coordinator Linda Eberline said the program is aimed at 11-17-year-olds with "significant emotional impairment" who are in legal trouble, charged with "encouragability" or beset by other emotional issues that get them referred to CMH, which in turn partners with CFS to provide family workers to help the parents work with the child.

"It might be for a kid who has been run in the juvenile delinquent system, and a kid who has been kicked out of school and having trouble, picking all the wrong peers," she said.

Executive Director Cynthia Kieliszewski said Specialized Treatment Foster Care is for students too difficult for general foster care but not necessarily in need of placement in a residential treatment facility like those in Dearborn, Saginaw and Muskegon.

"You're not talking about hardcore juvenile delinquents. You're basically taking kids that are just having a hard time dealing with everyday life, and the parents having a hard time with those kids growing and how to handle a teenager," she said. "We focus on kids 11-17 years old who are in the school system, and it's just helping parents understand how to talk to and discipline and deal with their kids, and it's helping the kids deal with their parents and then all the other things that happen with their lives."

She said kids are not locked into the program and must participate willingly, and though they generally are not allowed access to cell phones, the Internet or explicit music, the program gained popularity and success in other counties because it keeps families involved, pays foster parents a slightly higher fee than general foster care, and offers 24/7 professional support for them through CFS. It also uses a system of positive reinforcement whereby a youth can earn points through specific instances of good behavior, which then translate to priviledges.

Kieliszewski said by sidestepping placement in a residential treatment center in favor of an intensive nine to 12 month program, family workers can tailor the treatment to a basic school schedule and address the child's unique emotional issues.

"We pull them away from their known peer group, we pull them away from a school system that may have a perception of who they are and what they are, and we put them in a whole new school system and a different peer group, and we monitor that peer group ... and then we help them with skills so that they keep down that same path," she said. "We think that if we do some intervention, they can come back to their parents (quicker), because the whole goal of this program is to bring them back to their parents and have them have skills, and the parents have skills, to work it out again."

CFS sent Eberline and other staff to Oregon for training five years ago to implement the program in Michigan, and though several agencies license parents and homes for general foster care, CFS is currently the only local one that licenses for Specialized Treatment Foster Care. Licensing is a three- to four-month process involving a three-week training period, background checks, home inspection and other qualifications, and as the court has already intimated it has at least six kids ready for placement, finding foster parents is now the program's biggest concern. Eberline asked that anyone curious about or interested in becoming a foster parent contact her any day of the year at 310-1818 or 356-4567.

Andrew Westrope can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 358-5693.



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