Our History

Child & Family Services of Northwestern Michigan opened in 1937 as Dr. Mark Osterlin, founder of CFS, realized that abused and neglected children needed refuge. After being forced to return battered children to unsafe homes, he envisioned a place that would be a safe harbor for children, and so became CFS. The work Dr. Osterlin started nearly eighty years ago continues today.

Child & Family Services began life as a branch of the Michigan Children's Aid Society. In 1891, Dr. Amos Barlow founded Michigan's first organization of the Federation of Aid Societies, with Articles of Incorporation filed in 1893.  The purpose was "to accept homeless, neglected, and destitute children," and "to find homes for them." The next year, the West Michigan home of the Children’s Aid Society in St. Joseph, Michigan was dedicated as a "receiving home" for children.

The Orphan Trains

Charles Loring Brace was a minister in New York in the mid-1800s who became concerned about the plight of the city’s poor and homeless children.  Many were abandoned or orphaned.  Others were simply left to their own devices in the streets of the city by parents who worked long shifts in the city’s factories and businesses.  Brace believed that the key to helping these children was to remove them from the cities and to “send them to kind Christian homes in the country.”  For 75 years, more than 100,000 children were sent to new homes from the East Coast to Midwestern towns via the trains that were arranged and paid for through the Children’s Aid Society, the organization Brace founded to create the Orphan Trains.  The various state Children's Aid Societies, including the Michigan branch, originated from Brace's efforts in New York.

The orphan trains were controversial in some quarters, but they represented America’s earliest efforts at foster care, which has been a safety net for so many children over the years.

The Osterlin Legacy

Dr. Mark Osterlin came to Traverse City in the 1930s to practice at the Children’s Clinic, where some rural patients needed medical treatment but did not require hospitalization. He also treated battered children, yet had no alternative but to return them to unsafe homes, fearing they would again suffer abuse.  Dr. Osterlin believed that the region’s children needed a refuge.  Some needed temporary boarding; others needed permanent adoptive homes.

Dr. Osterlin turned to the Michigan Children's Aid Society.  In 1937, at his invitation, the Society opened an office in Traverse City.  Through this office, children were able to receive needed medical attention, and abused and neglected children found temporary safe harbor in boarding homes (foster homes) and adoptive families.

Dr. Osterlin exemplified the lasting impact one person could have on future generations.  He was a mentor, an innovator, and an advocate for children.  Because of his wisdom, compassion, and foresight, children in our community have the safety net they need–loving homes and families.  The work he began in 1937 continues today at Child and Family Services.

Third Level

The Boards of Directors of Third Level Crisis Intervention Center and Child and Family Services met over a period of months in late 2013 to discuss the idea of consolidating the functions and programs of both organizations in response to changing financial and other conditions for nonprofit organizations in a community that hosts more than 2000 charities in a five-county area.  After great due diligence by both boards, it was clear that the idea was a good one for our clients, donors, and the whole community.  On January 1, 2014, the consolidation became official:  Third Level, while maintaining its programs, physical plant, and 40 year-old reputation for excellence in crisis services, is now a part of Child and Family Services.

Third Level History

The youth movement of the 1960's led to the creation of peer based assistance organizations. In March of 1971, North Country Salt organized in Traverse City. They proposed the development of a crisis center that would meet the emotional and physical needs of young people experimenting with drugs. The Center would provide 24 hour crisis prevention, problem solving services, disperse drug use information, and advocate enlightened procedures for dealing with drug and emotional problems. North Country Salt sought to create a non-judgmental environment "one where the young people were involved in all decision making, and one that provided support for young people looking for ways to turn on to life."

In November of 1971, Third Level was incorporated as the Northwest Michigan Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse. "Third Level" was coined for the center – referring to the highest level of communication for a person in need. At this level a helper identifies the person's feelings, links them to a source, and identifies underlying currents and emotions. In 1976 the name was officially changed to Third Level Crisis Intervention Center, Inc. and on January 1, 2014, Third Level became a program of Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan.

Our Mission

We strive to ensure the safety and well-being of children, youth, adults, and families in times of crisis, challenge, and life transition.