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Program aims to keep kids safe in homes and out of foster care

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More than 400,000 children are currently in foster care in the U.S. Once a child has entered the system, they remain there on average for nearly two years, according to a federal report. Our State of Opportunity team looked into a unique program that’s working to prevent kids in Michigan from even entering foster care in the first place.

It's called the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, and it's made up of a lawyer, a social worker and a parent advocate - someone who has personal experience with the foster care system. Their goal is to provide free legal and social work help to keep kids in Wayne County safely in their homes and out of foster care.

Here’s how it works: First, the Michigan Department of Human Services screens hundreds of cases where children’s safety is potentially in jeopardy. If the child is unsafe because of some unresolved legal issue, DHS lets the Center know, and the folks at the Center step in to help.

Vivek Sankaran is the founder of the Center for Family Advocacy, which is affiliated with the University of Michigan Law School. 

"In all the cases we deal with," says Sankaran, "there’s no doubt that the parent loves for and is providing proper care for the child. But there is sort of a third party that may be interfering with the parents ability to provide care for that child."

Let's take a housing issue, for example, where the housing conditions are deplorable because the landlord isn't fixing the house as he/she should be. "What we do," explains Sankaran, "is we’ll go and take the landlord to court, or work and negotiate an arrangement that will then allow the family either to remain in the premises with the issues addressed or get their security deposit back and go elsewhere."

Sankaran says the Center also works to expedite kids out of foster care as soon as possible. So if there’s a relative or foster parent who’s ready and willing to care for a child, the Center will help those clients resolve whatever legal issues are keeping them from making adoption or reunification a reality.

You can check out the full version of this story on the State of Opportunity website.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
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