Example of Failed Child Welfare System

Recently a program called “Kids Count” released their report of each of the state’s child welfare system, in particular foster care.

 Below is an example of a failure…the state of Michigan. I selected this one to share since it is the state in which I grew up in foster care. Though not surprisingly, yet I astounded,  problems sighted were the same problems I dealt with  as a youth in its system…and I aged out just short of 40 years ago.

I don’t take credit for the article below…it appeared in Wednesday’s August 8, 2007,  issue of the Ann Arbor News entitled; “State System Creates too many Orphans”

  

Michigan is making orphans out of too many children. It’s an unintended consequence of laws passed in the 1990s making it easier for judges to terminate parental rights.

The ambitious goal was to quickly get abused and neglected children into stable, permanent homes. The reality has been thousands of children becoming wards of the state, then languishing in foster care for years before aging out of the system. Lawmakers need to revisit, and revamp, laws that have doubled the number of orphans in the state since 1994.

Michigan had 2,972 legal orphans 13 years ago. Last year there were 6,292, not including the 536 who aged out of the system because they turned 18. The latest Kids Count in Michigan report released in July found almost 28,000 state children received foster care services in 2004. It rightly calls on lawmakers to re-examine the foster care laws.

Foster care was never meant to be a permanent situation for children taken from their parents. But each year, hundreds of youngsters who’ve been in the system for years, age out of foster care without ever having a permanent home.

A report by the state’s Foster Care Review Board in June said the growth of state wards and increasing case loads for foster care workers might partially explain why some children have been abused or died in foster care. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is seeking funds to hire more than 250 workers to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system.

While the state must be zealous in protecting children by removing them from abusive or neglectful homes, it can not be overzealous in permanently cutting parental ties, especially with older children. The sad fact is that once children reach age 11, there is little chance of them being adopted out of foster care. Three quarters of the children adopted from foster care are taken by age 10. That means options other than adoption are needed to find permanent homes for older children.

Recommendations from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which does the Kids Count study, include programs such as permanent guardianships, which allow children to maintain legal ties to their parents while being raised by someone else. Michigan ought to try such programs. They have been used with good effect in other states. Guardianship programs can provide financial assistance commensurate with adoption assistance, allowing children who can’t go home to live permanently with relatives, foster parents and other adults, without being adopted by them. Another suggestion is to let judges create temporary legal guardians for foster children. That leaves open the possibility of a reunion if parents rehabilitate themselves.

Those ideas could be good options for older children, who often don’t want to permanently cut ties with their parents.

Michigan already is trying the “Family to Family” approach to foster care, which aims to keep abused and neglected children with their families when it can be done safely, with relatives or at least in their home communities. Research funded by the Casey Foundation says children are less traumatized by removal from their families if they are not also removed from their schools, neighborhoods and other supports that are familiar to them.

At any given time up to 19,000 children are in foster care in Michigan. Too many of them are spending years in the system without being returned to their families or adopted. For our children’s sake, the state must find better options.

So how many more years do the youth lanquishing in foster care in MI as well as the other states have to wait for change?

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

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