Spotlight on Service: Community-Based Care for Child Welfare in Kent County with Sonia Noorman

Celebrating and learning about those on the frontlines of public service is core to our mission at Roundtable. Roundtable's collaboration platform for government was informed by 300+ interviews with those on the frontlines of issues that impact all of us – from running safe and secure elections to preventing homelessness in our communities. 

The stories of these practitioners are core to our mission at Civic Roundtable. In this series, we will highlight one of their incredible stories each month. 

Meet Sonia Noorman, the Chief Executive Officer of the West Michigan Partnership for Children (WMPC) and a pivotal member of the National Center for Community-Based Care. Under her leadership, WMPC administers innovative, performance-based foster care, adoption, and foster home licensing in Kent County, Michigan. Sonia Noorman's dedication to leading systemic change and her passion for collaborative, trauma-informed care make her a standout leader in her field. Her work not only impacts the children and families in her community, but also has been put forward as a model for agencies across the country.

We caught up with Sonia to learn more about her journey and her impactful work.

How did you get into this work?

My journey began in social work, with a focus on foster care. As a high school student, I convinced my parents to become foster parents, driven by my concern for a middle school peer. This early exposure to foster care inspired my career path. I initially pursued clinical work and quickly gravitated towards child welfare, working on anything from prevention, treatment, with a focus to serving children and families. When WMPC was being developed, I was recruited as the Chief Operating Officer and have been part of its DNA from the start. The fast-paced, innovative environment of a startup allowed us to think outside the box and set a strong, supportive culture for our team.

What are your key priorities and responsibilities today?

My role involves leading WMPC and collaborating with our five provider agencies to create and manage performance-based foster care programming. We’ve significantly reduced the use of institutional care, emphasizing data-driven practices to improve outcomes for children. Our Enhanced Foster Care program meets the unique needs of each child, wherever they are. We focus on systemic changes and best practices to ensure that children and families receive better care and are reunited quickly and safely. This includes incentivizing providers' performance and funding essential positions within agencies.

A crucial part of my job is motivating and developing our leadership team to ensure they are equipped to handle the challenges they face. The mental health needs of children entering care have increased, and systems have yet to catch up. Addressing worker turnover and funding stability are ongoing concerns that impact not just our staff, but the children and parents we serve.

What keeps you motivated, especially when the going gets tough?

The resilience of the children and families we serve, along with the dedication of my team, keeps me going. The collaborative relationships with fellow advisors and agencies are also a source of strength and inspiration.

Collaboration seems key in your line of work. How do you make it happen?

Cross-agency collaboration is at the heart of what we do. At WMPC, we operate as a consortium with CEOs from our provider agencies serving on our board. This unique structure ensures that all voices are heard and that there is accountability and transparency in our decision-making process. Bringing partners to the table and working through decisions together fosters a sense of ownership and buy-in, which is crucial for systemic change.

How does Roundtable fit into all of this?

Roundtable is invaluable for connecting with my peers across the country through the communities sponsored by the National Center for Community-Based Care. It allows us to share experiences, ask questions, and learn from leaders who have been in the field longer than I have. This network provides support and insights that are essential for navigating the complexities of our work.

Any advice for budding advocates looking to follow in your footsteps?

Know yourself and be prepared to work on your own issues. The experiences you'll encounter in this field can be challenging, and it’s important not to personalize the reactions of those you serve. Build a strong support system, including a work best friend, to help you navigate the tough times. Remember that even small positive interactions can make a significant difference in the lives of children and families.

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