From Kathy Kieliszewski:
There are more than 18,000 children living in foster care in the state of Michigan and of those, 6,000 are wards of the state; legal orphans. Over three years ago, Detroit Free Press photographers Kathleen Galligan and Regina Boone began photographing the foster children at Christ Child House, a sort of modern-day orphanage and therapeutic home on Detroit’s west side. Over the years, it has been home to countless dozens of Michigan’s legal orphans. Regina’s focus was on a boy that had been adopted from the house and was transitioning into his new family while Kathleen concentrated on the boys at the house.
As many photojournalist know, photographing juveniles in foster care usually results in backs of heads and silhouettes. The Michigan Department of Human Services, which rarely grants permission to openly photograph children in its custody, gave the Free Press this unusual access to highlight the plight of Michigan’s foster children. “It’s an effort to educate the public on the challenges we face,” said Bill Johnson, head of the Michigan Children’s Institute, the DHS division with legal custody of the kids.
Many kids spend three years or more in the system–if not whole childhoods. Those three years allowed us to follow the progression of children through the system; the birthdays, holidays, sports trophies, lost teeth, failed adoptions, new foster homes and new families.
Kathleen and to a smaller extent Regina, had been photographing off and on for nearly two years before videographer Brian Kaufman joined the project. We had given this problem a face, but now the kids had a voice. There was no expert in the system as qualified to talk about life in the system as the kids themselves. Over that final year, the focus shifted to complimenting the already existing photography with great interviews and key moments told best with video.
With the reporter assigned and web on board, advocacy for the boys of Christ Child House drove how we shaped the plan for print and online. The Free Press has a longstanding children first mission and this project was a natural extension of that. The goal was to tell the story of life at Christ Child House as well as highlighting boys still up for adoption and giving people resources on how they can help through donations, mentoring, foster parenting and even adoption.