Offering a place to call home when home isn't an option
Rosslyn Bliss leads the way across a boardwalk on a five-acre piece of land on the north side of Grand Rapids to a one-story light-brown building. This building is an emergency shelter for kids who’ve been removed from their home by the state.
"We serve ... medically fragile children, we serve children with developmental disabilities, whatever they're struggling with, whatever child comes to our door, whatever their current state is, we take care of them," says Bliss.
This campus is run by D.A. Blodgett - St. John's in Grand Rapids.
This building is exclusively for kids who’ve been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect and have nowhere else to go.
Sharon Loughridge is the president of D.A. Blodgett - St. John's. She says the goal is to get the kids to a home setting – preferably with a relative – as soon as possible.
"The vast majority of these children, they’re here no more than three days," says Loughridge. "The vast majority don’t even spend the night here."
Under a settlement agreement following a lawsuit with the State Department of Human Services, kids are not supposed to stay longer than 30 days at an emergency shelter like this one. Last year, many kids stayed longer than that. Kent County accounted for a third of the total number of kids staying in emergency shelter for longer than a month.
Loughridge says there were a lot of reasons for that.
"The children who remain here for any length of time, it’s typically because they have some extraordinary need that needs to be assessed," Loughridge says. "Or we have to find the exact right placement for them."
Some of these kids might have specific medical needs that not every foster parent can handle. Some of these kids are themselves juvenile offenders, some sex offenders, and there are rules about where they can live.
There are some policies that were put in place this year to speed up the process of finding these kids a home.
But, bottom line, Loughridge says: There are lots of kids who need a home, and not enough foster parents who are willing to take on kids that are a little harder to handle.
Stacey Goodson, and her husband, Julian, are foster parents who often take in troubled teenagers. Not all of their friends get it.
"'Are you crazy?' That’s what a lot of people say," says Stacey Goodson. "We usually respond with, 'Yes, absolutely, but these kids deserve to have a home, they deserve to know what it’s like to be tucked in at night.'"
The Goodsons are especially equipped to be able to do this. Stacey works in the foster care system for her day job. Julian had family members who were foster parents growing up. The two of them say they always knew they wanted to be foster parents themselves.
But Julian admits everyone who takes in kids – especially troubled kids – doubts whether they can handle it.
"I don’t think that you really, truly, do know until you actually try it," he says.
He says it helps to talk to people who’ve done it before. There are challenges you might not expect – like the challenge of finding the right psychiatrist, of getting to multiple appointments across town for various issues. And behavioral issues in the home, of course.
"If a child showed up at your doorstep, hungry, needing somewhere to live, you would let them come stay with you." Goodson says. " ... we sign up to be the doorstep that they show up on."
Stacey Goodson says, in her day job, she advises many people that if they can’t become foster parents, they can become mentors.
And to her friends who call her crazy for taking these kids in, she says it’s not that crazy.
"If a child showed up at your doorstep, hungry, needing somewhere to live, you would let them come stay with you." Goodson says. "And you would feed them a meal and give them a hug. We just happen to be the doorstep – we sign up to be the doorstep that they show up on."
Two of the kids who’ve shown up on the Goodson’s doorstep became a part of their permanent family. The Goodsons adopted them.