BENTON HARBOR — It’s an unfortunate situation when a child is placed into foster care.

But Catholic Charities West Michigan (CCWM) is doing its best to step in before Child Protective Services even gets involved.

“These days we’re seeing both parents working outside of the home,” said Chris Slater, CEO of CCWM. “That, combined with daily stressors, they need help with how to be an effective and good parent. They all love their children, but just need a little help on the day to day.”

That’s why the organization, headquartered in Grand Rapids, is opening a new office in Benton Harbor to serve Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties.

“It happened rather quickly once we discovered the need in those counties,” Slater said. “It’s been about four months since we committed to opening it. All of the programs we run out of the office are specifically to go into families homes in these counties and provide services to keep these families together.”

The Benton Harbor office, on the main floor of 185 E. Main St., will open Oct. 1 with 26 brand- new employees.

“Every single one is a new hire,” Slater said. “We’ll have a program manager for the whole office, four supervising staff, then 21 case workers.”

Besides the need, the new office is due to several new family preservation and support contracts CCWM has with the state of Michigan. 

The case workers will use a variety of programs to help families: Family Reunification, Families Together Building Solutions, Families First, and In Home Family Services in Berrien County. They will also provide the Family Reunification program in Cass, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties, as well as Wraparound Services in Cass County.

Family Reunification is aimed at working with families in which children have been placed in foster care to be reunified within 30 days. Families Together/Building Solutions provides an intensive, solution-focused approach that is designed to serve families with multiple problems that could benefit from in-home clinical counseling and support.

Families First provides intensive, short-term crisis intervention and family education services in the family’s home for four to six weeks, to avoid out-of-home placement of the children. In Home Family Services provides family-centered counseling and support to families in need, resulting in input on behavioral change to help prevent the need for future child welfare involvement or removal.

Wraparound Services provide an individually designed set of services and supports to children with serious emotional disturbance or mental illness and their families, which includes treatment services, personal support services or any other supports necessary to maintain the child in the family home.

Slater said these programs take anywhere between one and six months, but can take longer. Success is measured if the family is still together during six- and 12-month follow-ups.

“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of impact because we’ve been providing family services, in one way or another, since the mid-’80s,” Slater said. “We bring a lot of experience in this area, so we’re pretty confident we’ll be effective right out of the gate.”

The Benton Harbor office is the third-largest CCWM location. This will expand its reach of services from 22 counties in West Michigan to 26 counties, from Traverse City down to Indiana. 

An open house is being scheduled for a later date.

For more information about CCWM, visit

Contact:, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman