August 26, 2016 – A couple of weeks ago, Michigan’s Children joined the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), University of Michigan Blavin Scholars Program, Eastern Michigan University MAGIC Program, Michigan Youth Opportunities Initiative, Enterprising Youth Program, Center for Fostering Success, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, and the Student Advocacy Center in sponsoring the 2016 Michigan Young Leader Advocacy Summit, a gathering of about 70 young people who have experienced the foster care system, their supporting agencies, and decision-makers interested in building a better understanding of critical issues facing them. It was one of the most impactful days I’ve been a part of.
The Summit proceedings raised familiar issues about the barriers to young people “aging out” of foster care that are completely fixable:
- Our services are based on arbitrary ages and arbitrary designations (foster care, adoption, guardianship), instead of making sure that no young person is leaving the system (or coming in and out of the system) without adequate support.
- Work and education requirements don’t always fit the lives of young people facing the most challenges as they move into adulthood. Requirements need to be flexible enough to work for all young people under a variety of life circumstances that will likely shift over time.
- There are so many changes in the people responsible for helping young people as well as the services available to assist them as they move from traditional to voluntary foster care, as they move from county to county (as we would expect young adults to do.)
The fact is that we wouldn’t place arbitrary age or location requirements on our own children. If they faced similar barriers, we would work to help them remove them, for as long as it took, in as many different ways as we could. These children are also our own.
I am inspired, as always, by the knowledge I gain from these conversations, and the energy of the young people. This fall, there are many ways for us all to utilize that knowledge. The Michigan House and Senate need to agree on and pass the Assurance of Quality Foster Care legislation before the end of the year, or that process will have to start over again next Legislative session. This legislation would require some additional diligence to make sure that our foster care, education and other systems are working well for all young people in the foster care system. Summit attendees committed to take action to make that happen. See our Act Now page for more about how you can join them.
In addition, most candidates running for office around the state have limited experience and expertise with the child welfare or foster care systems, but we think they need to build some knowledge there if they want to be elected. Take the time to find out where your candidates are going to be, get there, and ask some questions to at least raise your concerns and offer yourself as a resource.
— Michele Corey