Protection system

Michigan urged to address racial disparities in child welfare system

Michigan’s children of color are more likely to be institutionalized, to stay there for long periods of time, and to age outside of the foster care system without a family.

As a result of these experiences, black and brown children and their families are at greater risk of negative health, social and economic effects.

To tackle these racial disparities head-on, the Michigan Child Welfare Improvement Task Force made recommendations to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) to prevent and eliminate systemic racism in the state child welfare system.

The recommendations address issues such as children placed in foster care due to the effects of poverty, young people who may be living with family members instead of being placed in unrelated foster homes, and children of color representing a disproportionate percentage of those in congregate care settings.

While 31% of Michigan’s children are people of color, they make up 51% of its foster population.

The task force, which met in the fall of 2020, is led by Demetrius Starling, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency.

“MDHHS believes that the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system requires fundamental systems change,” Starling said. “We must take action to address these challenges.”

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel tasked the task force with working with Starling and her team at the Children’s Services Agency to develop recommendations to the department.

Key recommendations were presented to the task force to address six issues identified as related to the overrepresentation of children of color in Michigan’s foster care system.

According to MDHHS, after listening to youth, families, staff and key stakeholders, the task force identified six recommendations to address the issues that contribute to racial and ethnic disparities:

1. Problem: Families who come into contact with child welfare and whose children are placed experience overwhelming poverty, housing instability and associated challenges. There is ample evidence that negligence judgments are compounded by the effects of poverty.

Recommendation: Redefine abuse and neglect/physical neglect.

2. Problem: There are disproportions in the extent to which communities of color are reported and engaged with child welfare systems, placed in residential care, and placed in more restrictive forms of care.

Recommendation: Implement new structured decision support tools. These tools use clearly defined and consistently applied decision-making criteria.

3. Problem: Children come into foster care when they could be safely placed with parents or fictitious parents, who are not relatives such as family friends who have a meaningful relationship with the children. children.

Recommendation: Increase specialized services and supports for family and related caregivers.

4. Problem: The disproportionate placement of children of color in residential care and congregate care facilities, known as child care facilities, reflects a cross-system phenomenon in which they experience more restrictive placements .

Recommendation: There is a need for early identification and appropriate intervention to avoid crisis and placement. Increase access to mental health services for children and families.

5. Problem: Children of color are disproportionately placed in child care institutions and have longer lengths of stay.

Recommendation: Establish appropriate services to reduce institutionalization and length of stay.

6. Problem: The Children’s Services Agency budget does not provide adequate resources to advance these two recommendations – increase specialized services and supports for parents and caregivers and implement appropriate services to reduce child care placements and length of stay.

Recommendation: Obtain funding to implement the recommendations.

The task force is chaired by Thomas Stallworth, senior adviser to Governor 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, an organization national. working to improve outcomes for young people in the child welfare system.

The group was brought together to provide advice and recommendations to MDHHS by reviewing the appropriateness and effectiveness of strategies identified by the Children’s Services Agency, overseeing the new approach, seeking community and legislative support, and providing policy and practical recommendations to improve equity.

“A focused effort was needed to identify the root causes of system disparities, eliminate any implicit biases, and redesign a process that currently represents another prison pipeline for children of color,” Stallworth said. “Members of the department and task force should be applauded for their courage and commitment to achieving better outcomes for children and families.”

MDHHS said the task force is developing an implementation plan for each of the key recommendations to help achieve their goals of supporting MDHHS to improve the child protection system to provide safe treatment, just and fair to all Michigan children and families.

To visit michigancwtf.org to read the full task force report.

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