Family visits for kids in foster care often take place in a foster care agency’s office, which is not always the homiest setting. But a new program launching in Wayne County wants to change that.
Neighborhoods of Hope is a collaboration between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and community partners in Detroit.
The centerpiece of the project is a townhouse in the GardenView Estate public housing development in Detroit. The furnished home has a cozy living room, a full kitchen, and a play area in the backyard.
"It's less intrusive, and it's just a very relaxed atmosphere for both the parents and the children," said Annie Ray, Wayne County child welfare director for MDHHS.
The townhouse will also serve as a hub to connect families involved in the child welfare system to a network of community resources as they work toward reunification. Ray says it’s important that the state agency isn’t the only one involved in bringing kids in the foster care system safely home.
“So that long after DHHS is out of the picture, there’s sustaining relationships in the community that the families can build on and continue to use,” Ray explained.
Other partners on the project -- like the Boys and Girls club and on site food distribution -- will be available to kids currently in foster care and their parents even after they are reunified.
Taisha Terrell is a single mom to three boys and four girls ranging from age 3 to 16. Her seven children have been in foster care for a little over a year now, but she is moving toward reunification and hopes to have them at home again soon. She says she’s even excited for early morning wake ups and hearing seven kids call out “Mom!” every day.
But in the meantime, Terrell says that having visits in a more home-like setting will be a big improvement.
“Before we were meeting outside, we were meeting in the office, and sometimes there were other people watching,” Terrell said.
The new space also makes it easier to do her favorite family activity -- cooking and eating dinner together.
“Our favorite thing is honey barbeque wings,” she said.
Annie Ray says that in addition to creating a more inviting space, having the townhouse available for family visitation means that parents can arrange visits outside of the typical 9 to 5 business hours.
Ray says the visits will still be supervised by trained volunteers, but the extended hours will make it easier for parents working during the day to spend extra time with their kids.
Ray says her office is already in talks with other local organizations about creating more Neighborhoods of Hope locations in Wayne County.