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Pilot program in Kent County hopes aims for better outcomes, savings in foster care system

Kent County is a part of a new pilot program for children in the foster caresystem.

Michigan has been working to overhaul its child welfare system for years, after it was sued over problems in the system.

“(That case) tells us that we don’t have a perfect system. So we have to continually improve,” Kent County Assistant Administrator Wayman Britt said.

“We know that based on current outcomes that we can do a better job managing these cases. We can make the kind of system changes here in Kent County that would improve the outcomes for kids,” Britt said.

The county administrator’s office oversees childcare funds. Funding for the foster care system is complicated, with the federal government paying portions of the bills for some children. The state and individual counties pay for the care of the remaining children.

Kent County pays about $11 million annually for the system. The pilot would change how the money is distributed, and which agency covers which bills.

“The idea is that we create a stream of prevention-oriented funding and in-home care funding for children,” said Matthew VanZetten, Management Analyst for Kent County.

In the pilot program, non-profit agencies would handle all foster care cases in Kent County, almost from start to finish. Michigan’s Department of Human Services would still have responsibility to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, and it would still be responsible for holding these agencies accountable.

Britt and VanZetten wouldn’t characterize the move as “privatization.” Currently, non-profit agencies handle about 80-90% of foster care cases in Kent County, Britt said. The remaining cases are handled by DHS. This pilot has designated partners, but if the program expands, for-profit companies could conceivably bid for the contracts.

You can review the complete pilot program plan here.

VanZetten says the agencies have to agree not to reject any cases for any reason. “They really have to be able to commit to having a full array of flexible, high-quality services,” he said.

VanZetten notes Kent County has good experience with public-private partnerships. He says the model may not work in every county, even if the result are positive for Kent County.

The pilot program should start in about a year. But lawmakers will have to craft legislation to allow it.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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