In Blog: Factually Speaking

A version of this column originally appeared in Michigan Advance on April 25.

Earlier this year, I was selected to be a Class 11 fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship program. I recently attended my first seminar, and over the course of the week, my class was challenged to think differently about how we are centering our strategies to get results for kids and families.

We also had time to reflect on ourselves as leaders and on why we got into this work in the first place. As I thought about what led me to advocate on behalf of kids and families, I kept coming back to the interactions I had had over the years with so many bright young people, whether as a dance instructor at the Foster Community Center in Lansing, as an intern with the Detroit Initiative at Harms Elementary in southwest Detroit, working with Vista Maria for a year and half or as a volunteer at the Washtenaw County Juvenile Detention Center.

The vast majority of the children I worked with had either been failed by one or more of our systems or their families had faced institutional barriers to opportunity. I remember thinking that our kids deserved better and their voices weren’t being heard. My dedication to this work was—and still is—based on the belief that all kids should have equitable access to opportunities to reach their full potential.

So, as I prepared for the 2019 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book release, it weighed on me heavily that the rate of children confirmed as victims of abuse and neglect went up by 30% and the share of kids placed in out-of-home care (i.e., foster care) has been steadily rising over the last handful of years. The data also show that African American kids are significantly overrepresented as child victims and in foster care. These data come on the heels of several other damning reports of our child welfare system from the Office of the Auditor General and court monitoring report from the 2006 Children’s Rights lawsuit (Dwayne v. Snyder). These are some of our most vulnerable children and we are not doing enough to protect and support them and their families.

The good news is that Congress took steps in the right direction last year with the passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act, which makes needed reforms to provide services to those who are at risk of contact with the child welfare system. It also focuses on reducing the number of children placed into foster care and improving the well-being of children in foster care.

The state, however, still has a lot of work to do to prevent child abuse and neglect and care for kids in the foster system. While the Governor’s budget recommendation includes investments to support parent-child visitations when a child is removed from their home, it neglects to recognize the importance of preventing child abuse and neglect and supporting youth transitioning out of foster care. The data clearly show that children and families are in need here—and in many other ways that cannot be addressed without raising new revenue.

The data book highlights that while 10% of all kids in foster care age out of the system, 58% of youth over age 14 in foster care age out. We’ve all been young people before, and we all know that it’s incredibly important to have a connection with a caring adult who we can seek guidance from as we transition into adulthood. We also know that having the ability to access resources is important. Yet, the recent court monitoring report shows that Michigan is not anywhere close to meeting its commitments to these young people in regards to accessing supportive services like housing, employment and education. We can and must do better.

Although it may seem that the annual Kids Count in Michigan data book brings the “doom and gloom” every year, the data is clear about how our kids are doing and where we need to focus our efforts. Our hope is that policymakers at all levels of government will use the information and demand action on behalf of our kids who need it most.

 

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    Diana K. Hanna
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing. I have seen the system from several perspectives. I’ve been a foster parent and I am adoptive parent. I served on the Foster Care Review Board for 6 years. I was a foster care worker and foster care supervisor. I’ve trained CASA volunteers. I currently supervise a Parent Education program for families who are either involved with CPS or Foster Care. We currently have two foster children that live in my home. My husband and I became licensed to take in a foster youth who was aging out of the foster care system. I’ve said all this to say- that I have witnessed how broken “the system” is. I had some hope with the law suit, however, I have felt that the efforts to improve “the system” actually made it weaker. The chain is only as strong as the weakest link, and there are so many weak links it is hard to imagine change. There need to be system changes but they must be looked at from ground zero and move up from there. How are case workers trained and supported? How are foster parents trained and supported ? How do we make sure that every person that touches a case is trauma informed? Caseworker turnover, broken foster placements, LGALs that are not held accountable for not fairly representing the needs of their children….the list goes on of ways that children are further traumatized by “the system”. Thank you for championing this cause and giving a voice to children that have no voice. It is one that is near and dear to my heart- and I have felt my voice grow hoarse and weak in the process of trying to make a difference…

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