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Michigan Senate committee hears testimony on foster care bills

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A bill package to revamp Michigan’s adoption and foster care system received a hearing Wednesday before a state Senate committee.

The package would allow foster family homes to receive an extended license, create tax incentives to provide paid adoption leave, and expand the definition of “relative” for placement.

State Representative Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp) said placing children with extended family or close friends could help reduce rates of mistreatment in care.

“It’s almost like I need fairy dust that’ll make it better. And it’s not. So that’s why we just have to listen, we have to pivot, we have to work together, and this is actually an all of the above attempt to approach this really, really challenging issue that we all face,” she said.

During Wednesday’s hearing, some lawmakers shared concerns over whether family members and friends would get placement preference over outside homes that may be a better fit.

Meanwhile, advocates highlighted the need for placement consistency in foster children’s lives.

Carlos Correa testified as someone who has been through the foster care system. He said it’s important to recognize how frequent movement between residential and group homes can disrupt the lives of foster youth.

“We don’t play sports. We don’t get involved in extracurricular activities. We don’t get to attend high school and graduate with our peers because we are constantly, like, moving around,” Correa told lawmakers.

Elsewhere in the package, lawmakers aim to address housing shortages by allowing qualified residential treatment programs to occupy residential-zoned property.

Representative Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) said letting certain treatment programs bypass the local zoning process would help grow housing options for foster youth.

“We’re not talking about just a run-of-the-mill home and having 6, 9, 12 kids there. We would have professionals 24 hours a day so if there are medical emergencies, mental health emergencies, that they would have qualified folks and the standards are extraordinarily high,” Anthony said.

But Senator Ruth Johnson (R-Holly) said she’s worried about housing too many kids together.

“I’m just not sure why we need a bill that would pack in more kids into a foster home that need more attention and why we would strip away local control,” Johnson said.

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