Michigan residents can now use checkoff boxes on their state income tax forms to donate money to programs that assist children in foster care throughout the state.
Taxpayers can donate $5, $10, or more from their state tax returns to the Children’s Trust Fund or the Fostering Futures Scholarship, two programs that assist children in foster care.
According to Heather Upton, program coordinator for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Hillsdale County, there are 97 children in Hillsdale County who are part of the foster care system. Upton said substance abuse issues are the most common reason for removing a child from their home and placing them in foster care within Hillsdale County.
CASA is not affiliated with the organizations on the tax forms, but works with children in foster care and advocates for their best interest in court. CASA volunteers offer consistency for the child and serve as the eyes and ears of the court, Upton said.
Although each situation is different, Upton said, cases are open for a year to one and a half years on average.
There are 12,500 children in Michigan’s Foster Care System, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Bob Wheaton said.
According to Wheaton, the Children’s Trust Fund is a nonprofit organization that focuses on child abuse prevention, intervention, and providing services to families. Although the Children’s Trust Fund works with MDHHS to provide funding for foster care programs to local communities all across the state, it is a separate entity that receives no federal funding.
The Children’s Trust Fund relies primarily on fundraising through license plate sales, auctions, and the income tax checkoff box donations.
The Children’s Trust Fund has been on the income tax form since 1982, but donations have been decreasing in recent years. Last year Children’s Trust Fund received $72,020 from the checkoff box donations.
Christie Campbell, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Hillsdale County said that the Children’s Trust Fund provides CAPA with a yearly grant that allows them to continue their prevention work.
“You can donate any amount: it can be $5 or $1,000, it’s up to you. It’s a great time to make a donation,” Campbell said.
The Fostering Futures Scholarship is a joint effort between the Michigan Education Trust and MDHHS, said Robin Lott, executive director of MET. The scholarships are for young adults who were in the Michigan Foster Care System from age 13 or older and have plans to attend a Michigan college.
The Casey National Alumni Study reported that nationally, 70% of teens who emancipate from foster care report that they want to attend college, but fewer than 10% who graduate from high school enroll in college, and of those 10%, less than 1% graduate college.
The FFS provides $1,500 per semester in financial support. FFS also depends on donations to fund scholarships. Last year, the program raised $31,000 from income tax donations, but to keep their place on the form, it will need to raise at least $50,000 this year. Organizations cannot stay on the form if they fail to raise $50,000 two years in a row, Lott said.
Lott said the support of the FFS is important for students who lack traditional family assistance during college.
Events such as finding a place to stay over school breaks or career guidance can be more difficult for students who went through the foster care system, Wheaton said. FFS also connects students to a campus coach that can help them get the resources they need, like counseling.
“It’s important to support students overall to help them become successful adults. They will be the ones running our towns and hospitals. They are the vitally important future leaders of our communities,” Lott said.