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Dianne Shaffer


Family Support Partners

414 E. Michigan Avenue
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Advocacy Services for Kids is an agency devoted to supporting families and bettering children’s mental health in Kalamazoo County. Its director, Dianne Shaffer, leads with solid faith in teamwork – both within her organization and outside of it, joining with community partners who share the same goals. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Advocacy for Kids Executive Director Dianne Shaffer: To me, being a leader means that I am setting an example to my staff -- that I am always modeling how I want our agency to work and how we want to interact with the community, with the families that we serve, and with community agencies we work with, including Family & Children Services, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, Kalamazoo County Human Services Department, and local school systems.
As a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that we are providing quality services to families in Kalamazoo County; it is my job to maintain this agency’s sustainability by securing the financial resources necessary to do that.
Kids with emotional challenges struggle more in school than typical students do.

It’s my job to make sure our staff has the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to be confident in their roles. It’s making sure that they have the opportunities to go to training and conferences so that we have the internal capacity for coaching and supervision. Finding staffers that meet the qualifications of parenting children with mental health challenges (and also have the skills to do their mentoring work) is not a quick or easy process, but a leader has to face challenges like this head-on. It has been wonderful to see our staff members grow professionally and do work about which they are all passionate.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that kids have the support they need to achieve their goals in life, whatever those may be. Dreams and goals are different for every child and they need different types of support in order to reach them.
For many of our youth, their dream is educational: to graduate from high school and go on to attend Kalamazoo Valley Community College or Western Michigan University. Those kids need a lot of educational support, family support, and mental health support to obtain those goals. Kids with emotional challenges struggle more in school than typical students do. A great majority of the youth we serve have academic needs beyond other students, and we offer their families a lot of academic support in order to help them achieve their life goals.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Shared databases would be a huge asset to social sector work. Many agencies and organizations are serving the same individual or family – agencies that include Family & Children’s Services, community healing centers, mental health agencies, and departments of human services. The ability to share information easily and electronically would benefit both the service providers and the service recipients.
Reducing the redundancy of services would save the agencies time and expense; it would facilitate quicker referrals between them and increase the consistency of information they give and receive. It would also reduce the number of times that people have to tell their stories
How do you know that you’re making progress?
I feel like I am making progress because I have great staff members who are confident and well equipped to do their jobs. Some of them have been with us for multiple years, so they understand our agency, our programs, and our families.
Much of the challenge we face when working with families is that they have already encountered negative experiences in seeking services for their children. Many of them feel as if they are to blame for their child’s challenges.
I know that we are making progress because these families are satisfied with the services that we offer them and are making progress on their own goals; goals like utilizing the positive parenting techniques that they learned when their child has a tantrum or another problem.
Families are wanting to become more involved so that they can advocate for their children. That leads me to another example of progress. When a family wants to become more involved in their child’s education and wants to find out if their child qualifies for special education services, we try work with the parents and the school systems to identify and document those services and help everyone to develop an education plan that fits.
We monitor family progress while they are in the program and send out an annual survey when they leave. A large majority of them leave very satisfied with what they learned from us, and, more importantly, satisfied with themselves. The number increases every year. That’s progress.
What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of the progress that Advocacy Services for Kids has made as an organization over the past few years.  We’ve gone from almost an entirely volunteer organization to having staff of eight full-time employees (when we are fully staffed) and two part-time employees. We started out in a church classroom and we have evolved to operating in a prominent downtown Kalamazoo location. We were able to do that thanks to the Arcus Foundation, which rents us a large space at a very low cost.
Our budget has probably tripled in the past seven years due to support from Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services and a federal grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration in 2005. That $9 million, six-year grant (with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services being the fiduciary) has allowed us to add administrative staff for bookkeeping and computer services.
We have paid staffers now, and I’m very proud of the fact that our full-time employees are family members who are raising or have raised their own children with mental health challenges. They provide a great deal of support to other families with a new model, Family Support Partners, that we didn’t have before. I’m proud that we have been able to develop a great deal of infrastructure and have expanded our visibility in the community
What perceptions, misconceptions or historical influences create the most significant barriers to you as you engage and educate families about the resources available to them and their children?
Much of the challenge we face when working with families is that they have already encountered negative experiences in seeking services for their children. Many of them feel as if they are to blame for their child’s challenges.
Families often come to us with a great deal of anger and frustration because, by the time they find Advocacy Services for Kids, they have already gone in circles to try to access services and resources. Some don’t know who they can call in the chain of command, or where to go when they are turned down for special services, and they often don’t know how to begin navigating the special services that are available for their We try to give them a more positive experience and develop skills and knowledge that will help them as they continue to seek and access resources for their family.
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Program Profile


  • Advocacy Services for Kids (ASK)
    Advocacy Services for Kids (ASK) assists families and their children who have mood, emotional, and behavioral challenges to understand and navigate services, advocate effectively, and achieve their potential.


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