We Fight Spotlight: Child and Family Services

For this week’s Spotlight, We Fight chatted with Gina Aranki, Executive Director of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan (CFS). We Fight has been exceptionally grateful for CFS’ partnership in providing several Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) suicide prevention trainings to our members.

Learn more about the resources offered by CFS in our interview with Gina:

How would you describe Child and Family Services to a stranger?

CFS has been walking alongside people at all stages of healing and growth from trauma for 85 years, serving all the northwestern Michigan region from offices in Traverse City and Harbor Springs.

Local pediatrician Mark Osterlin asked the Michigan Children’s Aid Society to open a branch in Traverse City in 1937 when he realized that the children he saw in his practice who suffered from abuse and neglect were simply going home to the same circumstances that brought them to him in the first place.

Over the years, we’ve added a host of other services to our roster, including counseling, supervised visitation and safe exchange, intensive family preservation, parenting and trauma-informed education, and job/personal skills development. In 2014, CFS merged with Third Level Crisis Intervention Center, and added shelter, support, and 24/7 crisis services for youth. 

Gina Aranki, Executive Director of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan

What are some misconceptions about Child and Family Services?

People think of us as CPS, Child Protective Services, given the name similarities and the fact that some states do refer to their CPS agencies as Child and Family Services. […] But that’s the State of Michigan. We are a private nonprofit that contracts with the State to recruit, license, train, and support foster families.

Another misconception, more like a myth, is that foster families and orgs like ours are “in it for the money.” But this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s laughable, really, to know what wages are like for our employees, as well as our foster family reimbursements. No one is in this work for the money. It’s because we/they care about kids and families.

What are you most proud of about Child and Family Services?

Our people. The way they come to work every day in often the most challenging circumstances, witnessing the depth of trauma and grief that children and families experience, and try to make it better for them, as well as for each other. It’s such difficult work — burnout work — and people vary widely regarding how long they are able to do it without falling apart themselves. Some leave the field altogether. But we’re also proud that so many of our great people come back (we call them           boomerangs) because of the level of support, supervision, and camaraderie they receive at CFS.

What would you love to overhear someone say about your organization?

Someone please say, “I respect your work so much I’d like to give you $10 million (or some other nice round number!) so that you’ll be able to concentrate on the work and not worry about how to support your programs through fundraising.” Just once before I retire, please!

Barring that, I’m always grateful for the success stories of the many clients we’ve been there for over the years. There are a million stories!

Which of your offered resources could use a blank check because the need is so great?

Counseling and other responses to our mental health crisis are an absolutely needed service that many people, the uninsured or underinsured, can’t afford to access. It’s true especially in these times when the world seems so uncertain and full of grief and pain.

We were forced to end our Trauma Assessment program despite the need for it because it cost far more to run than the contract we had for it. I’d bring it back tomorrow (and some others that we had to end for the same reason) if we could afford it; it changed the lives of so many children and their families!

I’d love a blank check to pay our extraordinary employees what they are worth, including a retirement match which we have been unable to offer for 15+ years due to the cost.

What are some resources you offer that are underutilized?

The main one is Pete’s Place, our shelter for runaway and homeless youth. We have 9 beds (with room for up to 13 youth ages 12-17+) but rarely do we see more than 4 or so youth at any given time. We struggle to understand why.

Pete’s Place is very welcoming, with fantastic staff and lots of support services for youth. If you know a youth who is feeling unsafe where they live, or couch-surfing, or just needs a break from stress and conflict at home, call 231-922-4800 24/7.    

Please join in celebrating and building awareness for CFS. There are lots of ways — big and small — We Fight members can help, including the following:

  • Sharing the Spotlight on social media
  • Forwarding this newsletter to a friend
  • Writing a review on Facebook or Google
  • Telling a friend or neighbor about them
  • Writing a letter to the editor to support CFS
  • Contacting CFS and asking what they need

We Fight members can nominate organizations/initiatives to spotlight using this form.

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