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Michigan foster care inquiries surge amid family separation at the border

DETROIT, Mich.  (AP) — Michigan foster care agencies saw a surge in applications and inquiries amid the immigration crisis that's separated families at the U.S. border.

Randi Fremuth was one of more than 1,260 people who contacted Bethany Christian Services last month. It's the only Michigan agency with a federal contract to care for children separated from their parents as a result of the zero-tolerance immigration policy by President Donald Trump's administration.

Fremuth, 33, told the Detroit Free Press that she was heartbroken by the stories of children being taken away from their parents and wanted to open her home.

"They've been torn from their families," she said. "They've been traumatized. But I feel like if we can at least take some of the sting or the burn out of it and lessen that trauma in any way, we have to."

The inquiries last month were a huge increase, about 3,850 percent, compared to each of the previous five months when an average of 32 people contacted Bethany Christian, according to agency figures.

"All of these people were interested in fostering separated children," said Morgan Greenberg, a spokeswoman for Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian.

Other Michigan agencies also reported spikes in calls and emails from families interested in fostering children in June, during the height of the immigration crisis.

"The whole time span of that situation was 10 to 15 days," said Michelle Haskell of Samaritas, which also runs a program for refugee children. "In that time, we had 400 people call or email us. For some perspective, our average is about 10 to 20 a month, so that was pretty huge."

Bethany Christian expects most of the interested applicants will drop out of the months-long process to become a licensed foster care provider since most of the separated families have been reunified, Greenberg said.

But Haskell said Samaritas is encouraged by how many potential foster parents are moving forward with training and screening despite a federal judge in San Diego ordering that thousands of immigrant children be returned to their parents last month.

Fremuth wasn't eligible to foster a child through Bethany Christian because her Chelsea home is outside of the agency's service area, she said. She then enrolled in Samaritas' orientation program to learn about the hundreds of other refugee children in need of safe homes in Michigan.

"Our ultimate goal is to get these kids back with their families. Period," Fremuth said. "That's it. There is no other end game."

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