Samaritas: Fostering needs are ‘greater’ than ever

‘Surge’ of new placements is expected when stay-at-home ends, yet fewer foster families are signing up.
Annmarie and Brad Jordan are fostering a little girl who arrived as a newborn and now is over a year old. Courtesy the Jordans

Samaritas is ramping up recruitment of foster families for an anticipated increase in the number of calls to Child Protective Services.

Laura Mitchell is executive director of foster care at Samaritas in Grand Rapids. She said statewide in Michigan, there are almost 1,000 children currently in foster care through Samaritas. The need for foster families to accept new placements “is even greater than it typically is due to COVID,” she said — not only because the pace of new foster families signing up has slowed, but because when the government restrictions due to the pandemic lift, CPS expects to see a burst of new issues being reported.

Mitchell said CPS received about 5,000 complaints in the first week of March, resulting in the placement of 100 children in foster care. By the end of April, the number of complaints CPS received was fewer than 2,000, and 18 children were placed in care in the last week of April.

“Numbers have significantly decreased, which causes a lot of concern for the safety of children right now,” Mitchell told the Business Journal this month.

“We expect that there will be a surge of new children needing foster care once we start to emerge from the stay-at-home orders and kids are again going out in public places where other adults can have eyes on them and see how they’re doing,” she said. “It is important that we are prepared when those kids need us.”

Contrary to what the public may think, Mitchell said Samaritas is still able to continue recruiting and licensing foster families during COVID through a combination of virtual, phone and in-person screenings. Its field workers also are able to do home visits as needed to ensure the safety of children.

Foster care can be a rewarding and joyous opportunity, in addition to the difficult parts, according to local couple Annmarie and Brad Jordan.

In October 2018, the pair obtained their licensing as foster parents through Samaritas, and have since had one placement, a little girl who is over a year old whom they received when she was a newborn who is still living with them. They said they are “honored” to be in touch with the child’s biological mom and have a “very positive relationship with her.”

“It’s been great to see this little baby who was in the NICU grow and overcome some health troubles and become the wild, amazing, adorable little girl she is today,” Annmarie Jordan said.

Brad Jordan said foster care has been on his heart for a long time, as he grew up witnessing his grandmother’s work as a long-term foster mom for special needs children.

The couple met while working as counselors at Camp Beechwood Hills in Hopkins, where one of the leaders was a foster dad who, with his wife, ended up adopting three of his placements.

“We always thought that that story was very powerful. Just think of where they would have been without this wonderful family that brought them into their home. I think from early on, we’ve always had great experiences and great relationships with people in foster care, and that kind of edged us into doing it,” Brad Jordan said.

The couple has one son, Eli, who is 3 years old, but they had faced infertility issues conceiving him, so they agreed to look into becoming foster parents after he was born as another way to grow their family.

Annmarie Jordan previously worked for CPS, so she knew the importance of caring for children until they can potentially be reunited with their parents.

“What really shocked me is how rewarding it’s been for us,” Brad Jordan said. “It’s amazing how much love you can have for someone else’s child.”

Annmarie Jordan said if she could share one piece of advice to other parents, it’s not to listen to the doubt and fear that would hold them back from serving in this way.

“If you have any tug, any inkling that you’re interested, pursue that, whether it’s contacting an agency or talking to other foster parents, (because) there is such a need,” she said.

“The biggest fear I’ve heard people say is, ‘It’s so nice what you’re doing; I would love to do that, but I don’t know if I could say goodbye.’ That’s the whole idea of foster care, to love these kids while their families can grow and get safe and healthy, and they can be reunited. … The people who would love so hard that it would be hard to say goodbye — those are the ones who need to be foster parents. Those kids need that love, that safety, that security, and we as grownups can handle those goodbyes a lot better than a child can handle not knowing love, safety and security.

“I am a big mush; I have a huge heart, and I will be selfishly crushed when our placements get reunified, but simultaneously, we’ll be happy for them and know that if we could be part of their life, whether it’s a week, a month, a year or forever, that’s what we were meant to do.”

Brad Jordan added there are plenty of resources for foster parents through the placement agency, through foster care support groups and through the “bonds you can form with people you wouldn’t get to know otherwise.”

Mitchell said she doesn’t know of a specific dollar amount Samaritas is aiming to raise for its foster care division, but “any amount” people can give will help the organization provide services at this time. Its expenses have risen “quite a bit” during the pandemic due to needing to provide technology access to the clients it serves and its employees, so work can be done remotely; as well as issuing personal protective equipment (PPE) for field workers; and meeting the basic needs of families — many of which are financially impacted by the pandemic, Mitchell said.

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