Family-Type Support for Foster Youth
29469 Northwestern Hwy
Southfield, Michigan 48034
An innovative program, Blue Babies, is reinventing foster care service in Michigan by providing round-the-clock family-type care and letting kids steer programming. Its work has helped create a community of foster care youth and alumni that help one another even after they age out of the system.
Blue Babies. It's a colorful name for an organization
that over the past few years has been rewriting the rules of what a foster care service program can be in Michigan.
Partnering with the state
and actively working with schools, universities, and about three dozen other organizations, from the Foster Care Alumni of America
to Wolverine Human Services
, Blue Babies provides information, resources, and perhaps most importantly a support network for young Michiganders who, through no fault of their own, have been separated from their parents for a variety of reasons like neglect, abuse, abandonment, or death.
Among other things, the program links up foster children with mentors, helps them navigate state courts and agencies, offers advice for dealing with issues like healthcare and scholarships, advocates for change in the foster care system, and provides
...Blue Babies provides information, resources, and perhaps most importantly a support network for young Michiganders who, through no fault of their own, have been separated from their parents for a variety of reasons like neglect, abuse, abandonment, or death.
round-the-clock assistance with emergencies.
What's more, it gives youth a say in what services are provided and connects them with a wider network that includes adults who have transitioned out of the state's foster care system. In Michigan, young people can age out of the system as early as 18, although those working, going to school, or dealing with a disability can have that limit extended to 21. Through the Affordable Care Act, youth who’ve aged out can now qualify for full Medicaid coverage until age 26.
About 600 foster care children and young adults now participate regularly in the program. Of these, about 100 are actively involved, providing mentorship to younger participants. Although Blue Babies is open to foster care youth and young adults from around the state, the vast majority live in Wayne and Oakland counties. Most are between the ages of 12 and 28; the organization also provides support for siblings and children of those in the program.
As for the name, it's both a nod to the Great Lakes and a reference to rebirth for foster care youth who may feel stigmatized or invisible because of their situation.
"We saw the stigmatization that embarrassed kids," says Saba Gebrai, director of Blue Babies. "Michigan is trying to improve things, but that red tape gets other people to think that foster kids don't have family. They don't have things. They're poor. They're unwanted. Some people even think they are criminals, because sometimes they're housed together with kids who’ve committed a crime."
Blue Babies tries to turn these misconceptions around by creating a family-type environment where youth are supported by staff and mentors and encouraged to develop career goals and give back to the community.
The program was officially launched in 2009 by Albert and Mitsie Scaglione of the Park West Foundation
, a philanthropic group that deals more broadly with child and family issues. The Scagliones got to know some foster care youth and began to understand some of the issues young people in foster care were facing. They decided to respond by establishing the Blue Babies program, which was specifically designed to address the needs of youth aging out of foster care.
Gebrai, who has been working with the foundation since 2007, helped them flesh out the details of the program and became its director. An Ethiopian immigrant, Gebrai graduated from Marygrove College with a degree in mathematics, but ended up pursuing a career serving others. Before working with the Park West Foundation, she helped run children’s services for Save Our Sons And Daughters, an organization dedicated to preventing violence and counseling those impacted by it. Her time spent listening to kids has proved helpful at Blue Babies.
At first, Gebrai says, Blue Babies tried to address issues in the foster care system with money, but after hearing the concerns of the youth they changed that approach. While the organization still responds to material needs as they arise, it now focuses
"We saw the stigmatization that embarrassed kids," says Saba Gebrai, director of Blue Babies. "Michigan is trying to improve things, but that red tape gets other people to think that foster kids don't have family. They don't have things. They're poor. They're unwanted."
on empowering youth by letting them steer programming and encouraging them to give back to the community by assisting one another and volunteering with organizations like Focus: HOPE
Although she has a staff of six people at the office to help respond to crisis calls and handle other office tasks, Gebrai says she depends mostly on the youth themselves and the network of partner organizations, which includes groups like Catholic Charities
, Creative Community Pathways
and Alternatives for Girls
, to carry out the work.
After more than five years, efforts have paid off. Where Blue Babies once lacked a single college graduate and struggled to convince youth to stay in school, they can now point to a host of alumni who are college graduates and several who are homeowners.
Despite this success, Gebrai says there’s still work to do to attract more of the state’s roughly 13,000 foster care youth
to the program and to push for a more sensible and humane foster care system.
"We're really trying to build community and have a permanent one that they can connect to," she says. "So as much as possible we don't try to run it like a regular agency program. We want them to get plugged into their own communities."