child welfare

Reflections on My Internship

When I started graduate school, my very first class was a social policy class. It sounded a little boring, and I couldn’t imagine enjoying it. Much to my surprise, I loved the class and I loved learning about the social policies that affect the well-being of all people. I wanted to learn more and experience what it was like work for an organization that helped shape these policies. For the past 8 months, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of doing that as an intern at Michigan’s Children.

I remember the first day of my internship. As with any first day at a “new job,” I was excited and more than a little nervous. Would I do well? Did I really know enough about social policy?  I spent the following days reading everything I could about issues affecting the welfare of children. In staff meetings, I heard legal terms that were new to me and discretely (I hope) scribbled them down, so I could look them up later.  The following weeks and months were an exciting time as I tried to learn everything I could about policy work and advocacy.

From the first day, I was treated like a member of the team, not “just an intern.” The work was challenging, but I loved every minute of it. Not only did I do research, analyze policies, and make recommendations, I also had other great opportunities such as attending House and Senate appropriations meetings, meeting with people from other organizations, and talking to individuals in the community. Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with Courtney, another very talented social work intern at Michigan’s Children.

During my time there, I learned so much from Michele, Matt, Bobby, and Kali. Valuable things that I’ll remember and carry with me throughout my social work career. Here are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned.

1. Change takes time, and often a very long time. When advocating for better policies, sometimes you have to start with small requests and continue to build on small changes to get the big changes you really want.

2. Doing your research is critical. To analyze policies to determine their potential effectiveness and offer recommendations, you need to know the facts about the issues.

3. Networking and building relationships with individuals and groups in other agencies and organizations is essential. The more people you bring to the table with a shared goal, the more power you have to affect change.

4. This most important thing I’ve learned. It is crucial to talk to the people directly affected by the issues. Reach out to community members in diverse populations and listen to what they have to say. They are the experts on their own experiences, their needs, and how to best address those needs without creating more barriers.

In addition to learning about policy work and advocating for positive change, I learned many things about myself.  I can do so much more than I ever imagined, I have good ideas, I love meeting people and building relationships, and I am passionate about advocating for children and families. The world should be a safe place for children and youth where they feel loved and have opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. Part of creating that world is ensuring that parents and grandparents also have the supports they need.

My time at Michigan’s Children has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my graduate school education both professionally and personally.  Now that I’ve graduated and am ready to begin my professional career, I leave the organization knowing that I’ve made 5 amazing, extremely knowledgeable and talented new friends whom I will never forget. It has been a joy and a privilege to work with them and learn from them.

 Sherry Boroto, MSW is a former intern at Michigan’s Children.

Kinship Caregivers Need Support Too

March 29, 2018 – Over the past several months, I’ve been researching kinship care and talking to advocates to learn more about the issues caregivers face. I recently had the opportunity to meet with some informal kinship caregivers (not licensed foster parents) and hear about their challenges first-hand. Reading about the issues and hearing second-hand stories gave me an abstract overview of the situation. However, listening to caregivers tell their stories and imagining what it might be like to face their daily struggles made a much greater impact on me. Conversations often focus on the needs of children, and it’s vitally important that they do, but they don’t always focus on the needs of their caregivers. A child’s well-being is affected by the well-being of the entire family, so the needs of caregivers are important too.

As I listened to kinship caregivers tell their stories, some major themes began to emerge – feelings of isolation, loss of identity, lack of respite, and financial strain. These individuals spend most their time caring for children and have very little if any, time for themselves. Caregivers noted that one big barrier to relieving these stressors is the lack of affordable childcare, which prohibits them from working, finding respite, and interacting with other adults. Caregivers also expressed frustration over the amount of time spent talking with DHHS staff who were unwilling to assist them or were unfamiliar with the types of assistance available to children in informal kinship care. Trying to navigate the system without the support of knowledgeable staff prevented some caregivers from accessing available services.

Overall, the lack of support kinship caregivers receive is discouraging. These individuals are entrusted with the care of one of our most vulnerable populations, yet they cannot access the resources they need to ensure they and the children in their care thrive.

In a recent article about kinship care, I outlined some recommendations for addressing issues kinship families face. One recommendation was to learn more about the needs of this population. In addition to collecting and studying data, I urge legislators to meet with kinship caregivers and listen to both their stories and their suggestions on how to address the issues they face. Data only tells part of the story. The people living these experiences are essential in completing the narrative.

Another recommendation I made was to establish a statewide Kinship Navigator program. A recently passed federal act called the Family First Prevention Services Act would allow the state to develop one of these programs. The act provides federal funding for states to implement Kinship Navigator Programs that provide support to kinship caregivers, helps them complete paperwork, and links them with available services and other resources. The state would have to develop and fund the program, but the federal government would reimburse the state for up to 50% of the cost. It is imperative that any such program is available to both formal and informal kinship caregivers as both types of caregivers need support. Additionally, the program should provide the options for kinship caregivers to call and speak to a trained navigator or schedule a face-to-face meeting if needed. Now is the time to urge Michigan legislators to fund the development of this essential program.

Sherry Boroto is an intern at Michigan’s Children and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work.

The Job Isn’t Finished: Preventing Human Trafficking

February 14, 2018 – The last few legislative sessions in Michigan have resulted in positive progress towards address human trafficking – tougher punishments for traffickers, more services for the trafficked, and Legislators should be commended for prioritizing this issue.  The Governor recently proclaimed January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month in Michigan, as he has done over the past several years.  Despite this attention and effort, however, there has been limited state attention to investment decisions that would help to prevent trafficking in the first place.

We know quite a bit about who is at risk of being trafficked – not surprisingly, they are our most vulnerable young people.  They are current or former foster youth – The National Foster Youth Initiative reports that six in ten child sex trafficking victims had been served by the child welfare system and nearly nine of every ten child sex trafficking victims reporting to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) were in the care of social services or foster care when they went missing. They are homeless young people (sometimes the same group, but not always) – according to a recent study looking at youth in cities around the nation, including Detroit, fully one in five homeless youth had been trafficked and nearly one-third reported involvement in the sex trade.

The good news?  There are things that we can do to stabilize the lives of these young people and prevent their victimization.  And we can do these things right now –in the coming weeks, the Legislature will release their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year.  Here are a few things that they need to consider:

  1. Support Homeless and Runaway Youth by increasing funding for community organizations providing key services to this population. In Michigan, funding for these agencies hasn’t increased since 2001, despite significant increases in requests for services and needs of the youth requesting services.  And there are still counties in Michigan that are not covered by these agencies.
  2. Stabilize Foster Care Transitions. Some young people who have been involved in the foster care system will be assisted by strengthening the network of providers serving homeless and runaway youth.  But, there are a few more pieces necessary for this specific population, for whom the state of Michigan bears parental responsibility.
    1. Full funding for MYOI services in addition to staff. Last year the Legislature passed an increase in funding to ensure that MYOI staff are available statewide.  This year, they need to include increases in service funding that when combined with private philanthropy and federal investment can provide those services to every young person in Michigan who can take advantage of them.
    2. Invest state resource to end the cliff between traditional and extended foster care for 18-21 year olds; do more outreach and more tracking to get kids services through that system.
    3. Adjust the Fostering Futures scholarship so that it is available to more young people trying to obtain post-secondary credential – flexibility, better layering with other scholarship programs to cover real costs.
    4. Extend the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit to young people in or leaving foster care beginning at age 16.
  3. Invest in removing barriers to school attendance and graduation. We also know that young people who have successfully graduated from high school or have begun a path post-secondary are much less vulnerable to trafficking, but our failure to address young people’s traumatic experiences and their mobility has created additional barriers for many young people. We can remove these by investing in discipline systems that don’t punish behaviors borne of trauma; in attendance supports for kids without consistent residences; and in initiatives targeted toward getting more kids in care through high school successfully, including using alternative credit-bearing models and strengthening the adult education system.
  4. We must also sustain and improve access to other critical services for young people. Physical and behavioral health care access through the Medicaid program, including access to mental health and substance misuse services is essential, as is access to food through the SNAP program.   Congress is talking right now about adding work requirements to both Medicaid and SNAP, which would have specifically adverse impacts on building stability for these young people.  If Congress block grants or sends more decision making to the states for these programs, which has also been discussed, our Governor and Legislators will have to protect these young people.

Michigan’s legacy of work to address human trafficking could be strengthened by building stability for our most vulnerable young people.   Over the next few months, we need to take that opportunity.

Michele Corey is Michigan’s Children’s Vice President for Programs

Leading for Kinship Caregivers

Growing up, I had an especially close relationship with my grandfather. Next, to my parents, he was my ‘go to’ person when I was sad, afraid, or just needed a hug. He was the person with whom I had the strongest bond. I was also blessed with a large extended family of loving aunts, uncles, and cousins. Holidays were joyful, boisterous affairs with everyone gathered at my grandfather’s house. At the end of the day, I’d return home exhausted. Those were the happiest memories of my life. My own happy childhood memories helped me realize that having the support of a loving family is essential to a child’s well-being. This is one of the many reasons kinship care has become an important issue for me and why I was so excited to lead Michigan’s Children’s work on kinship caregivers.

It wasn’t until I started graduate school when I first heard the term ‘kinship care’ in one of my classes. Kinship care as opposed to foster care placement is preferred because children generally have better outcomes when they live with a loving relative rather than a stranger. This makes sense to me. If my parents had been unable to care for me, I would have wanted to live with my grandfather. He was the one person, besides my parents, who I knew would always love me, take care of me, and keep me safe. Knowing this, I could understand why children would benefit from living with a close relative.

On the first day of my internship with Michigan’s Children, I was asked to research what issues kinship caregivers face and how other states are addressing them. An integral part of being a leader is getting to know the population you serve and understanding their needs, so I started learning from kinship caregivers and others who are familiar with the issues they face. My research led me to write “Critical Issues in Foster Care: Kinship Caregivers”. I spoke with grandparents who are raising their young grandchildren and were being evicted from their home because their landlord did not allow children. Not only did they suddenly have to care for their grandchildren while dealing with the grief of their own child’s substance abuse, they were also going to be homeless in a few short weeks. Hearing their story and reading about others like them, made me more passionate about uplifting their voices by leading policy advocacy for assistance to kinship care families in need.

At a recent seminar, I mentioned the article I was writing on kinship care issues, and the legislative director for a state representative approached me. His representative had recently held a town hall meeting to learn more about kinship care issues, and he wanted to hear my recommendations. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to advocate in a way that could make a real difference for kinship care families. A few weeks later, we all met, and I provided additional information on kinship care and shared policy recommendations. We also talked for a few minutes with the representative, who shared his enthusiasm about moving forward to help address kinship care issues. While I’ve had many great days during my internship at Michigan’s Children, that day was one of my best so far.

It is an honor to lead this advocacy effort to help kinship caregivers in a meaningful way. Our work is far from done, but I look forward to seeing some of our policy recommendations through.

Sherry Boroto is an intern at Michigan’s Children and is currently in her final year of graduate school at Michigan State University where she is pursuing her master’s degree in social work. Read her “Issues for Michigan’s Children” piece on kinship care.

Famous Foster Care Story Brings International Attention to the Value of Grandparents

Aug. 11, 2016 – By now, those of us tuned into the Rio Olympics have heard of Simone Biles’ remarkable journey as the world’s most celebrated gymnast and as a child from foster care adopted by her grandparents.

As is the case of many great Olympians, the story behind the making of this Gold-medal winner can be as equally powerful and instructive as her athletic performance. Biles’ childhood story has struck a chord with many foster, adoptive and kinship families across the continents because it is so familiar.

After her biological mother and father couldn’t care for her because of their struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Biles and her sister spent four years in foster homes until her maternal grandfather and his wife, Ron and Nellie Biles, adopted them. By Biles’ own account, the couple created a loving and secure home and one that provided her with opportunities to hone her extraordinary abilities on display before the world today. They also kept the sisters together, an issue raised time and time again by young people in the foster care system at our most recent KidSpeak.

In Michigan, the new role that grandparents assume when their children can no longer care for their own children is far from unordinary. It is estimated that nearly one-third of children in the state’s welfare system are placed with grandparents and many others are cared for by grandparents outside the system. This has become a growing trend in our society for a variety of social and economic reasons. Lack of parental support services to address drug and alcohol addiction, mental health concerns, and financial distresses leading to circumstances unconducive to child rearing continue to upend families and fuel this change in family structure.

Last October we highlighted the experience of one grandparent-turned-mom again, Deb Frisbie from the Grand Traverse area, after she joined other caregivers and policymakers in Lansing and shared what makes their situation work and how our public policies could better support families like Frisbie’s. I returned to Frisbie recently to discuss grandparent needs and found her continuing to work as an advocate for other grandparents and older adults raising young children who are facing foster care or in foster care.

Near or in retirement, older adults who are starting over as parents have financial limitations and frequently health concerns that make child-rearing more than an Olympic feat, even when the desire to raise one’s own kin is best for the children and all involved, Frisbie says. Once children are adopted from foster care, adoption subsidies are non-existent except for children with special needs, and those are often limited. Providing basic needs and health insurance for children often drains retirement accounts leaving adults’ own future well-being at risk. Because of such struggles, it may be advantageous for families to remain as guardians because of new assistance resources available, but those are again inadequate, Frisbie says.

Delays within state systems continue to be raised as a barrier by young people and caregivers. Frisbie has worked with one friend recently who assumed care for her three granddaughters when their mother was imprisoned. She was advised to seek a foster care license in which public support would enable her to raise the girls. After entering the review process six months ago, she continues to wait for that assistance while caring for the children. She’s already drained her savings account and is now worried she won’t make her next house payment.

Another barrier: We don’t have good information about grandparents and other family members raising children. According to Frisbie and other family advocates, better support is needed for the many families who are offering the best, loving support for children, and ultimately saving society the financial and personal costs of maintaining too many children and youth in a system without a permanent caregiver.

But to do that, we need to have a much better sense of who the caregivers are, in the child welfare system and out of it, and know more about their circumstances and challenges. Without a more consistent and reliable accounting of these families and their struggles, we are turning a blind eye to real needs and future solutions.

Teri Banas is a communications consultant working for Michigan’s Children.

Support the Caregivers to Support the Kids

September 30, 2015 – As you all know, Michigan’s Children has been bringing together the voices of the most challenged young people and policymakers for nearly 20 years through our signature KidSpeak® forums, and that work has changed the trajectory of policy conversations over those years. But children and youth don’t grow up on their own, they grow up in families, in schools and in communities – often many different ones if they are involved with our foster care system. Michigan is too often not the best parent to the young people who we have taken responsibility for, but there are a lot of caregivers who are working as hard as humanly possible and against multiple odds to try to do better for kids in foster care. We heard from about a dozen of those caregivers last week, and learned quite a bit about how we could do better.

Michigan’s Children; the Michigan Statewide Foster, Adoptive and Kinship Family Coalition; the Michigan Federation for Children and Families; the Michigan Kinship Coalition and the Kinship Care Resource Center were recently joined by nearly fifty local, state and federal decision makers at our latest FamilySpeak. We were joined by Congressional staff, by Michigan Legislators and their staff, by staff from the Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services and Education, and by staff from multiple private agencies and service providers wanting to hear more about how to better support the very challenged children, youth and families that they serve.

Eleven caregivers, including foster, adoptive and kinship parents, spoke about what had brought them into the system, how their expectations differed from their reality of parenting and outlined their specific challenges. And all made recommendations for changes in policies and programs to make the system work better for their families and others. They talked so eloquently and emotionally about how the young people they were helping to raise at times just need access to the same things that other kids need– early identification of problems so that they can be addressed promptly and avoid larger problems later on. Michigan’s Children was glad to hear this recommendation coming from caregivers as it aligns with our ongoing advocacy work on ensuring a variety of early childhood programs and services are accessible that maximize future opportunities for all kids, rather than expanding equity gaps.

And they also talked eloquently and even more emotionally about how the kids in their care, and they, needed more help than they currently receive. More understanding of the impact of trauma – for themselves, to be able to negotiate it better as parents and for the systems serving their children, so that they are better served in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. More access to necessary services – better and early assessment of what is needed immediately, and consistent access to those services. They spoke a lot about how services were not available right away, or weren’t available in a way that worked for the young people they were parenting – many of whom will need supports like child care well beyond the traditional age of 12, and supports of all kinds well into adulthood, beyond 18 for sure.

They also talked about themselves – how they are workers and citizens and how both of those roles are at times compromised because of a lack of available support or understanding on the part of employers and workers in the systems. And some caregivers – particularly those family members who are caring for their grandchildren, their nieces and nephews – are often left out of access to critical services that their children need as much as others who have come into the child welfare system through other ways. In addition, it is clear that once children and youth have been adopted, there are far fewer services available to families, which also needs to be remedied.

Michigan’s Children is working with policymakers to see the connections between what we hear from young people in the system, and what we hear from their caregivers. So much of what young people experience as instability in their world and lack of services toward their eventual independence and adult success stems from exactly the same issues that caregivers articulate as lack of access to services and support so they can best care for their children.

We thank all of the amazing young people and parents who have taken the time to talk with us and to policymakers about their very personal experiences so that we can make sure that the state is taking its job as primary caregiver of children and youth in foster care as seriously as is required. Michigan needs to be the best parent to the children, youth and families in our care and we need to adequately support those who are helping with that effort.

– Michele Corey

Putting the Needs of Children and Youth First

June 15, 2015 – Administratively, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) allows adoption agencies to deny services to potential adoptive parents for any reason they see fit. Last week, June 11, Governor Rick Snyder signed a package of bills that made a section of that DHHS practice state law. Specifically, Governor Snyder codified the practice of allowing adoption agencies to reject potential adoptive families based on sincerely held religious beliefs. So what does this mean? Now all adoption agencies have the right to deny services to any family for any reason that “goes against their religious beliefs” including but not limited to same-sex and unmarried couples.

DHHS reports that at any given time approximately 13,000 Michigan children and youth are being served by the foster care system, with approximately 4,000 eligible for adoption. Children and youth in the foster care system need safe and nurturing homes until they can return to their families; and the children eligible for adoption need a stable permanent home. Homes where children have a loving supportive adult to help guide them. Michigan already faces a deficit of quality placements for children in out-of-home care, and putting limits unrelated to researched practice only further limits the number of forever family options for the children most in need in our state.

Through a recent KidSpeak forum in January, 2015, Michigan’s Children had the opportunity to speak with youth from the foster care system. The youth all expressed a common desire, one that research has shown to be common among many children in the foster care system – they want ways to make permanent, meaningful connections with a loving adult(s) who will help them access opportunities for success, and resources to help address the trauma they have experienced. They need these things now and for the rest of their lives. Michigan law should not define who the loving adults will be in ways unsupported by research or best practice.

Michigan’s Children hopes that from this attention and debate we take a closer look at how we are working toward building permanent options for all of the children and youth in our care. Instead of passing bills decreasing the options for children and families in need, why don’t we spend time and invest resources in recruiting, maintaining and supporting more successful foster and adoptive parents? Additionally, the state should invest much more in programs that support families struggling to provide safe and stable homes for their children; family reunification; and more out-of-home placement options for children unable to remain with their birth families, such as placing children with relatives and others as guardians or kinship parents.

Michigan, let’s invest in options that put the needs of children, youth and their families first. Let’s explore options to keep families together, and when that is not possible let’s expand the number of options for children, not limit them!

Learn more about what young people in the foster care system say they need to best support their unique circumstances and challenges.

-Cainnear Hogan

Cainnear is an intern for Michigan’s Children.  She is currently completing her MSW at the University of Michigan – School of Social Work.

Taking The Challenge

February 27, 2014 – This week, young people who are currently being served by the foster care system and those who were formerly served by that system, gathered to share their expertise with a group of elected and appointed officials, those who develop and run programs within state departments, and those who lead in their Oakland County communities.  The testimony given was inspiring, as was the range of decision-makers who listened to the more than three hours of expert perspective.  The testimony challenged all of us to do better for the young people for whom we as a state have taken responsibility and to keep doing better for them.  Michigan’s Children is glad to take that challenge.

Many of the issues raised have direct public policy solutions:

  • We can make sure that young people are provided some stability in their educational careers by using resources we already have available to keep them in the same school for long enough to build relationships and gather credits.
  • We can make sure that there are 2nd, 3rd and 4th chances for young people to get through high school by rewarding programs that serve the most challenged kids well and serve them beyond the traditional four years of high school.
  • We can make sure that there are well trained and sufficiently supported staff who are helping the young people, their birth families, foster families and surrogate families succeed.
  • We can make sure that behavior born of disappointment, isolation and anger that result from insufficient resources and support for kids in the foster care system does not result in a direct path to the juvenile and criminal justice systems.

As communities, we can take advantage of their resilience, their tenacity and problem solving skills.  And we can make sure that current and former foster care kids’ voices and voices of their peers are heard in places of policymaking.  Their voices were definitely heard Monday night by dozens of decision-makers in attendance who chose to listen.  Michigan’s Children and other partners will make sure that they now use what they’ve learned to act.

See the Oakland Press coverage of the event.

– Michele Corey

Beyond the Bickering to What Matters

I was so proud today to see the culmination of hard work from two members of our Congressional Delegation – yes, our Congressional Delegation, those guys in DC who are responsible for either coming to some budget conclusion today or partially shutting down the federal government.  In Michigan, we have some pretty important folks who represent us in DC.  Congressman Dave Camp, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee – you know, that committee responsible for coming up with government spending priorities – and Congressman Sander Levin, who is the ranking Democrat on that very same Committee.  While more often than not, the ideological gridlock in the U.S. House of Representatives seems unbearable, every now and then, there is a glimmer of bi-partisan leadership about something that really matters to the most challenged children and families in our state and nation.  This is one of those glimmers, and the leaders responsible need to have that work acknowledged and celebrated, even in the midst of larger and more polarizing conversations about how we will be spending our public resources in this nation.

Two Democrats and two Republicans, including our two delegation members mentioned above, today introduced the Promoting Adoption and Legal Guardianship for Children in Foster Care Act, which reauthorizes the federal Adoption Incentives program through 2016 and makes improvements in how the program works to help some of the kids who tend to stay in foster care longer than others – those who are older, who are over-represented by children of color.  This program was originally created by the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 to help states increase adoptions by giving them some additional resource to do so.  (I shouldn’t forget the two other bill sponsors – a Democrat from Texas and a Republican from Washington state.)

In Michigan, we are again looking at the over-representation of children of color throughout our child protective services system.  This disparity begins at the time that complaints are investigated and continues to increase through removal of children from their families through permanent placements with guardians and adoptive parents or aging out of foster care with no placement option.  Incentives to target adoption and guardianship supports so that they benefit the kids who need them the most are critical.  The fact that two members of our delegation were able to overcome their disagreements on a host of issues, to work together on this critical issue, is worthy of celebration.  Now, they start working on all of their colleagues on the Hill and we are poised to assist.

Michigan’s Children is part of a national network called SPARC – the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center – that brings advocates from around the country together to insist on better public policy for children, youth and families in a variety of areas including protecting our most vulnerable.  As Congressmen Camp and Levin work across the partisan aisle to build support for this reauthorization, we will be working with our colleagues in other states to encourage constituent pressure and support to assist.

Please, acknowledge this good behavior – too often our elected officials only hear from us when we are expressing disappointment for what we see as poor decision-making on their parts.  Right now, we think that Congressmen Camp and Levin need to know that their constituents appreciate their efforts, and the rest of our delegation needs to understand that we expect similar bi-partisan work to be done on behalf of the most challenged children, youth and families in our state – today, tomorrow and every day.

-Michele Corey

Steps Forward, Steps Backward on Michigan’s Responsibility

As we debate public responsibility for many things, there cannot be any argument about our public responsibility for the children who we have removed from their families and placed in the care of the state.  In 2008, a Federal court oversaw a settlement agreement between the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) and a national children’s rights group who asserted that we were not fulfilling our end of this bargain with children and families involved in our child protective services system.  This month, the sixth settlement progress report was released, assessing efforts made over the first six months of 2012.

We need to commend DHS for progress made, as cited in the federal monitors’ report:

  • Increased placements with relative guardians.  Under pressure to improve our record for permanent placements for children and youth removed from their families, DHS has stepped up their use of guardianship.  In fact, 70% of the children permanently placed out of foster care were placed under guardianship with relatives.  We know from research that when kids are removed, placement with relatives is generally less traumatic and more successful than placement with non-relatives.
  • Supporting youth “aging out” of foster care:   Continuing earlier practice, DHS committed to maintaining Medicaid coverage to youth after leaving foster care as independent – over 97% of the eligible youth were covered after their foster care case was terminated.  In addition, Michigan Youth Opportunity Initiative (MYOI) programs continue to operate in counties around the state, funded and supported by the Jim Casey Foundation and other partners.  Though MYOI results in the three counties reviewed by the monitors were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.  The work of these initiatives is to provide information, training and supportive services related to education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, permanency, and social and community engagement.  Though MYOI results in the three counties were mixed, efforts to coordinate services and increase skill sets for older foster youth are essential.

Unfortunately, monitors noted that Michigan did not improve on the following crucial pieces:

  • Timeliness of reunification.   Often the best option for kids is placement back into the family after services are provided.  Michigan fell behind other states when it came to timeliness of reunification with the family following removal from home.
  • Length of stay in foster care.  Michigan kids stay an average of 11 months in foster care, compared to the national average of less than 8 months.
  • Opportunities for contact.  For children in foster care, there are few elements more critical than visits between caseworker and child, caseworker and parent, and child and their parents.  Michigan failed to meet agreed upon standards pertaining to frequency of these visits.
  • Availability of out-of-home placement options.  Michigan is lagging in licensing relative homes for placement, and is having difficulty meeting the standard of no more than three children placed in any single foster home.

The goal of the Department of Human Services, also demanded through the lawsuit settlement is to quickly connect families to services following a child’s removal to strengthen connections that result in either a child’s timely return home or safe placement as soon as possible.   Support for families must come from various community-based sources – sources whose support from state resources has been cut almost entirely over the last ten years.  In addition, the fact remains that the child welfare system continues to serve a disproportionate share of children from families living in poorer communities and from families of color.

According to the latest Kids Count in Michigan Databook, confirmed victims of child abuse or neglect rose by nearly 30% between 2005 and 2011, and over 80% of those cases involved neglect.  For families who struggle the most to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children, the need for early prevention programs has never been more critical.  The lack of adequate funding for home visiting and other family support programming and behavioral health services for adults and children, as well as the dismantling of basic financial support programs like food, cash and child care assistance runs contrary to what is necessary to improve outcomes in the child welfare system.

Fueled by the lawsuit, private philanthropic resources, and good administrative decision-making, DHS has made positive steps towards improving child protection services; but without adequate funding, Michigan cannot ensure that all families have the supports they need to provide a safe and healthy home environment for their children.  The Governor did increase resource in his budget recommendation for DHS staffing, but did not increase investments in other areas of that budget.  The Legislature went on spring break without giving us a glimpse of what they are planning for DHS funding, but they have the opportunity when they return to promote investments that have proven track records in halting child maltreatment, particularly for those families most challenged by their circumstances.

To learn more about DHS’s progress towards improving the child welfare system, visit the DHS website.

To keep posted on the state budget process, see Michigan’s Children’s Budget Basics.

-William Long

William is the former Interim President & CEO of Michigan’s Children, former Executive Director of the Michigan Federation for Children & Families, and current Eaton County DHS Board member.

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