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KidsFirst Emergency Shelter

As the first stop for every Kent County child that is removed from the home because of abuse or neglect, KidsFirst Emergency Shelter in Grand Rapids knows how to meet the needs of traumatized kids. While children may be angry, sad or anxious, KidsFirst staff is prepared to handle difficult times with the children who will eventually be placed in a more permanent setting, like a foster home or independent living program.
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates this program?
D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s Program Manager Kelly Koeze: We are never closed. We help kids who are removed from their homes 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and we have no maximum capacity on the number of kids that can be admitted on any day. We cannot -- and will not -- turn a child away if they come to us through Children’s Protective Services or the police. Our daily census varies because we never know when another child may be admitted, so, sometimes there are only a few kids in the program. Other times we might have more than 20.
Another unique thing is that we always have two beds available for children who are not safe in an open setting because of severe behavior issues and other problems.
Also, it is our goal to keep the children in their own schools. When that absolutely can’t happen, they are enrolled in Grand Rapids Public Schools or Lighthouse Charter Schools. But we make every attempt.
We go out of our way to create a comfortable, family-like setting for the children who stay in the two houses here. Families do not have staff offices in their in their own homes, so we don’t have them at KidsFirst. 
Families do not have staff offices in their in their own homes, so we don't have them at KidsFirst.

What are the keys to success for your program?
Our dedicated, hardworking, and compassionate staffers. Their strong teamwork has proven to be the biggest key to the success of the KidsFirst program. Individuals bring their own unique quality and strengths to our team.
We all shower the children with unconditional love, and we utilize the time we have with them. Every one of us wants to show these children what a healthy relationship looks like and to open their eyes to all kinds of new opportunities and experiences. Each of us has a different role, and by working together, we are able to serve between 400 and 600 children every year.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
The children we serve have been through a lot in their short lives. The abuse and neglect that brought them into KidsFirst often leaves them with a lot of anxiety. They worry about the unknown.
We will continue to do what we have discovered works the best, which is to provide them with a structured routine during their time at KidsFirst. It works because they know what to expect.
Also, we need more foster families. Children stay at KidsFirst for extended periods of time if we can’t identify an appropriate foster home. Teens spend longer amounts of time in our shelter because there are just not enough foster homes available for teens. Of the 488 children that we served last year, 186 were between 12 and 17 years old.
We continue [along with other agencies] to seek out appropriate foster families.
The children we serve have been through a lot in their short lives. The abuse and neglect that brought them into KidsFirst often leaves them with a lot of anxiety.
Do you accept sibling groups at KidsFirst Emergency Shelter? Does this present any placement challenges or other challenges?
Any neglected or abused child that has been removed from their home is admitted, so Children’s Protective Services and the police often bring sibling groups to KidsFirst.
There are more homes available for young children, so the biggest problem is that if a sibling group involves older children, it is difficult to for us to identify a home willing and able to care for all of the children together. 
In those situations, they may have to go into separate foster homes.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
When children arrive at KidsFirst, they are in crisis. They have just been removed from their parents or loved one’s home and they are walking into a place where they don’t know anyone; it can be very busy here with a lot of other kids. It’s a very scary time for them. Not everyone is happy to be away from their parents, even if the situation was not a healthy one. It’s not unusual to work with children who are very angry or very upset about that. Children only know what they have been taught, so some of the children that are placed at KidsFirst do not know appropriate boundaries. 
Our staff works really hard to find teachable moments with every child; it is always amazing to hear how children have changed after they leave KidsFirst. A lot of children that were once placed at KidsFirst stop by after they are discharged and we hear how they have grown and what they are doing in their lives. Hearing those success stories often keeps the team going. 

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  • D.A. Blodgett-St. Johnís
    D.A. Blodgett - St. John’s mission is to help children and empower families by providing them with safety, advocacy and support – to transform the lives of children in need through the loving connections of Big Brothers Big Sisters, ...



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