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New MDHHS project that keeps families together has provided assistance to more than 500 families in first two months

Director Elizabeth Hertel visits Port Huron for discussion about successes of FIT initiative that embeds family resource specialists with child protection staff

LANSING, Mich. – An innovative program that keeps children at risk of neglect in their homes safely has delivered services such as food assistance, Medicaid, housing assistance and gas cards to more than 500 families in 12 counties in less than two months, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced today.

Director Elizabeth Hertel visited the MDHHS office for St. Clair County in Port Huron to discuss the success of the Family Impact Teams project, also known as FIT, which is part of the department’s Keep Kids Safe Action Agenda.

FIT embeds MDHHS family resource specialists with the department’s child protection and foster care staff so they can support families in applying for benefits and Medicaid and connect them to other economic supports. The first phase of the project began in August.

“This initiative is a great fit with MDHHS’s prevention-based approach to child neglect,” Hertel said. “If we can provide families with economic support, it’s more likely that children can remain safely with their parents instead of being placed in foster care. And if foster care placement is needed, providing these economic supports can make it safe for the children to be reunified with their parents.”

Family resource specialists who are part of FIT engage with families face-to-face, determine their eligibility for assistance programs offered by MDHHS, and refer them to other local agencies that can provide them with resources to meet the families’ needs.

The first phase of the project is in the following counties: Allegan, Barry, Chippewa, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau, Luce, Mackinac, Oakland, Sanilac, St. Clair and Wayne.

Deborah Costner, the legal guardian to her 9-year-old great grandson who has special needs, was among those who participated in a roundtable discussion with Hertel at the St. Clair County office.

“It was a blessing,” Costner, of Port Huron, said of FIT. “We’re moving into a new home.”

Costner and her great grandson have been living in the Pathway Homeless Shelter in Port Huron. Their family resource specialist learned the family had no transportation in addition to not having a home. She helped them apply for subsidized housing, finding them an apartment that’s within walking distance of the great grandson’s school, a grocery store and the Social Security Office. Costner, who is retired after working for more than 30 years, receives Supplemental Security Income.

Statewide, there are 17 Family Impact Teams family resource specialists, with three specialists serving St. Clair and Sanilac counties. The second phase of the project with expansion into additional counties will begin in early 2024

The Family Impact Teams approach strengthens collaboration between MDHHS’s Economic Stability Administration – which provides public benefits such as food assistance and Medicaid – and its Children’s Services Administration, which protects children and provides services to their families.

Providing childcare subsidies decreases child neglect by 31%, according to a study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, while referring homeless families to permanent housing decreases foster care placement by 50% and connecting families to food assistance decreases child maltreatment by 11%.

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