foster care

Judson Center Parent Partner Kim Young.
Reel Clever Films

As a parent, you want your kids to grow and develop into successful adults. Providing a stable and safe home is an important part of doing that.

But families aren’t the only ones who are responsible for making sure kids are growing up in a safe environment. 

Jasmine Uqdah
Photo courtesy of Jasmine Uqdah

Michigan Radio’s State of Opportunity team has spent a lot of time exploring foster care in Michigan and what happens once kids age out of the system.

Michigan is now one of the few states that gives young people the option to stay in foster care until they're 21.

But it wasn’t always that way. In most states, you age out when you're 18. That used to be the case in Michigan, too.

Musicians team up with at-risk youth in songwriting workshop
Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The girls who live on the Vista Maria campus in Dearborn Heights have all experienced some kind of serious abuse or neglect. Some are the victims of human trafficking, all are in the foster care system. They come to Vista Maria to work through the trauma and heal.

mom and four kids
April Van Buren / Michigan Radio

Foster care is supposed to be a temporary fix. When a child ends up in state care, the first goal is to reunite them with their birth families. But only about half of the 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system every year end up going home. A small group of parents in Washtenaw County wants to change that. 

screenshot of Abbi's Facebook post

She first went into the system when she was five years old, she says.

She bounced around, like any of the thousands of kids in Michigan who go through foster care. So she waited, like everyone else waits. Many of them wait so long, they turn 18 in foster care, and they’re never adopted. They “age out.”

But her story took a different turn. 

It was this winter. January. Abbi was 15 years old. We’re just using her first name.

She was living in a group home, thinking of another year, another birthday without a family. She talked to her therapist about it.

Homeless teen with backpack
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr Creative Commons / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Bridge Magazine published a story Wednesday about barriers homeless college students in Michigan face while trying to pursue an education, and just how hard it can be for them to find help.

Especially when it comes to affording college.

As a college student myself, I can't imagine taking (and passing) classes, while having to worry about where I'm going to sleep and shower, and how I'm going to get my next meal.

Leonardo Aguiar / Flickr Creative Commons / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

Earlier this month, 17-year-old Meechaiel Khalil Criner was arrested by Austin police and charged with the murder of 18-year-old University of Texas student Haruka Weiger.

Criner ran away from a foster facility in Killeen, Texas on March 24, less than two weeks before he was arrested.

flickr.com/swaity / Licenced under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Michelle Gach grabs a couple slices of pizza before we get started. She has a story to tell, and it turns out to be a long one, covering the past 14 years of her life, with more tragic turns than most people see in an entire lifetime.

But that comes later. For now, we’re sitting in a room together: Michelle, two of her daughters, and two friendly pit bulls.

The room is mostly bare, exposed plywood on the floor, blue strips of painter’s tape along the baseboard, new doors still leaning against the wall. A project waiting to be finished.

While Michelle Gach finishes her pizza, her daughter Felicity begins to tell me the story of what happened on a Saturday in August 2014.

Michigan Department of Health and Human Services

The number of kids in foster care is on the rise, according to a recently released report.

Last year, there were 415,129 kids in care nationwide. That's over 14,000 more kids than the year before.  

Visionello / Flickr Creative Commons

The occasional weekend sleepover at a friend’s house...

Playing on the school basketball team...

Going on a class field trip...

Getting a cell phone...

Posting an update to Facebook...

Sound like pretty average activities for teenagers, right?

Not for teens in foster care.

For a number of reasons - like cost, liability, and biological parental rights - young people in Michigan’s child welfare system have long had to jump through multiple legal hoops to do things most people would consider “normal” for kids their age.