How Michigan plans to address racial disparities in foster care system

Task force identifies 6 ‘problem statements’

FILE - A swing sits empty on a playground outside in Providence, R.I., March 7, 2020. Columbia Universitys Center on Poverty and Social Policy estimates that the number of children in poverty grew by 3.7 million from December 2021 to January 2022, a 41% increase, just one month without the expanded child tax credit payments. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) (David Goldman, Copyright 2020 Associated Press)

There is an over-representation of children of color in the foster care system in Michigan and a task force is making recommendations to prevent and eliminate systemic racism in the child protection system.

The recommendations are meant to address issues such as children going into foster care because of the effects of poverty, youth who could be living with family members and children of color being a disproportionate percentage of those in care facilities. The Child Welfare Improvement Task Force made the recommendations to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

“MDHHS believes the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system requires fundamental systems change,” said Demetrius Starling, executive director of the department’s Children’s Services Agency. “Children of color enter foster care at higher rates and stay in care longer than their white peers. Children of color are also more likely to age out of care without finding a forever family. We must take action to address these challenges.”

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel asked the task force to work with Starling and his Children’s Services Agency team to develop recommendations for the department. Only 31% of Michigan’s children are people of color, but they make up 51% of its foster care population.

The task force is chaired by Thomas Stallworth, senior advisor to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and director of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, and co-chaired by David Sanders, executive vice president of Systems Improvement at Casey Family Programs, which is nationally renowned for its work to improve outcomes for youth involved in the child welfare system.

Read: Need for foster families has never been greater in Downriver communities

What recommendations did the task force make?

Six key recommendations were presented to the task force to address six problem statements.

The task force listened to youth, families, staff and stakeholders to identify the six recommendations to address issues that are contributing to racial and ethnic disparities. The task force will develop a plan for each of the main recommendations.

  1. Problem Statement: Families who have contact with child welfare and whose children are placed in care overwhelmingly experience poverty, housing instability and associated challenges. There is ample evidence that judgments of neglect are confounded with the effects of poverty.
    1. Recommendation: Redefine abuse and neglect/physical neglect.
  2. Problem Statement: There are disproportionalities in the extent to which communities of color are reported to and engaged with child welfare systems, placed in care and placed in more restrictive forms of care.
    1. Recommendation: Implement new structured decision-making tools. These tools use clearly defined and consistently applied decision-making criteria.
  3. Problem Statement: Children are entering foster care when they could be placed safely with relatives or fictive kin, which are nonrelatives such as family friends who have a significant relationship with children.
    1. Recommendation: Increase specialized services and supports for relative and kinship caregivers.
  4. Problem Statement: The disproportionate placement of children of color in care and in congregate care facilities known as child-caring institutions reflects a cross-systems phenomenon in which they experience more restrictive placements.
    1. Recommendation: There is a need for early identification and appropriate intervention to avert crisis and placement. Increase access to mental health services for children and families.
  5. Problem Statement: Children of color are disproportionately placed in child-caring institutions and have longer lengths of stay.
    1. Recommendation: Implement appropriate services to reduce placements in child- caring institutions and length of stay.
  6. Problem Statement: The Children’s Services Agency budget does not provide adequate resources to advance these two recommendations – increasing specialized services and supports for relative and kinship caregivers and implementing appropriate services to reduce placements in child- caring institutions and length of stay.
    1. Recommendation: Secure funding to implement the recommendations.

Click here to read the report, or view the embedded file below. Click here to learn more about foster care in Michigan.

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.