Michigan Foster Care System Has Racial Disparity, Report Finds

From the Port Huron Times Herald:

"Michigan’s minority children are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to age out of the foster care system without being adopted or returned to their families, a new report shows.

Children of color also are more likely to be removed from their families for abuse and neglect, according to the report from the Michigan Race Equity Coalition in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, to be released today.

[']This gives us verifiable data that policymakers, legislators really like,['] said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly, who co-chaired the coalition effort with public policy advocate and former legislator Lynn Jondahl. [']That is really what moves decision-makers faster.[']

Those behind the report hope it will help improve early intervention and community-based services for families, win more funding for child abuse and neglect prevention and lead to better training for child welfare workers to help them discern the difference between poverty and neglect.

About 13,000 kids in Michigan are in foster care at any given time, according to the Department of Human Services. Using data from 2013, the coalition’s report compares the number of minority children with the number of white children in care. It found:

  • Minority kids were 2.1 times more likely to age out of foster care than white children. Hispanic kids were 1.1 times more likely, American Indian 1.4 times more likely and black children 2.3 times more likely to age out of the system.
  • Black children were 1.6 times more likely than white children to live with families investigated for abuse or neglect. Kids from Hispanic or American Indian families were slightly less likely than their white counterparts to live in families investigated for abuse or neglect.
  • Children from minority families were 1.3 times more likely than white kids to be removed from their families’ homes due to abuse and neglect.

That’s troubling, said Jane Zehnder-Merrell of the Michigan League for Public Policy. She served as data coordinator for the project.

[']That suggests we are not doing enough upstream to get these kids safe or keep these kids safe in their own homes,['] she said.

[']A lot of these kids get pulled into the child welfare system because that’s our response rather than helping their families with economic stability,['] she said.

She said erosion in assistance for poor families and school funding in recent years has made the situation more precarious for many families.

[']People are really struggling to maintain any kind of stability for their kids,['] she said. [']It used to be that schools were the bedrock in the community. That’s not the case anymore, particularly in our most desperately poor cities.[']

Kelly said she’s encouraged by some recent changes, including a 2011 law that allows foster kids who meet certain criteria such as working or attending college to receive continuing assistance until they are 21.

The state also has boosted the number of foster care caseworkers.

Jondahl said a pilot program in Saginaw County involving courts, child welfare and juvenile justice systems provides a model for reducing the disproportionate numbers.

He also said an advisory panel will be created, meeting regularly, to check on progress in meeting the recommendations in the report.

[']It won’t be just a report to put on the shelf,['] he said. [']That, to me, makes all the difference in the world.[']"