An organization formed in a pilot program to oversee foster care in Kent County is at risk of closing after state budget cuts.
Among the $600 million administration transfer by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month, $2 million was taken from the budget of the West Michigan Partnership for Children.
The nonprofit was established two years ago as a five-year pilot by the state to ensure Kent County children who are removed from their homes because of abandonment, abuse or neglect are placed in safe, family-like settings with culturally responsive and trauma-informed services.
WMPC facilitates foster care contracts from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, administering the work through five agencies: Samaritas, Bethany Christian Services, Wellspring Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities West Michigan and D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s.
WMPC oversees the care of about 850 children.
The $2 million, about 5% of the organization’s total budget, is the entire administrative budget needed to oversee the programs, according to Kristyn Peck, CEO of WMPC.
“Without that $2 million, we would no longer be able to oversee the work,” Peck said. “At this point, we're really concerned that if this transfer is not reversed, that would mean the end to our program.”
State Senate Majority Floor Leader Peter MacGregor, R-Rockford, urged Whitmer to reverse the funding shift for the WMPC.
“In one motion, the governor has effectively killed this program and closed the door to these kids and families in need,” MacGregor said in a statement. “As this is the only foster care system in Kent County, there is no backup system in place.”
Peck said the model of the organization is to work alongside the families being served to get feedback in hopes of improving the foster system, as well as using data to make decisions and continually improving quality.
She said the model pulls from others throughout the U.S. with proven outcomes.
“We're working with our system partners to work on system improvements, to streamline processes, to bring in new services and to really transform the system so it's more family centered,” Peck said. “We're seeing the successes of our work fare out in our improved outcomes.”
Measured outcomes in Kent County so far include reducing the length of stay of children in foster care, increasing the number of children that reunited with their families and decreasing the number of children placed in institution-type settings.
Peck said the hope is that the perfected Kent County model can be used as a blueprint for the rest of the state.
Peck said the organization has been able to shift its budget to make do for now, but that it cannot happen indefinitely.
If the funding decision is not reversed, Peck said she expects the state will have to provide leeway funds so another plan can be established to care for the foster children.