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Task force recommends ways to fix racial disparities in Michigan's foster care system

Children standing
Ben Wicks

The Michigan Child Welfare Improvement Task Force made a number of recommendations to address racial disparities in the state's foster care system.

Michigan’s Child Welfare Improvement Task Force has done extensive research and is now making recommendations concerning racial inequities and systemic deficiencies within the foster care system. These recommendations are for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

The group was formed in fall of 2020 and is headed by Demetrius Starling, executive director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Agency. The goal is to “fully implement a new approach that improves safety and equity and reduces unnecessary and potentially harmful investigations of Black families.”

Child Welfare Graphic
Michigan Child Services Agency
Michigan Child Services Agency
Michigan's Child Welfare Improvement Task Force Recommendations

MDHHS is piloting a new tool to define and streamline the intake process for case workers. This tool is aimed at eliminating bias and inconsistencies across the state. The research says the current definition of “abuse and neglect/physical neglect” often overlaps with the natural effects of poverty. This makes it hard for case workers to determine what a family in crisis needs. The task force is also recommending redefining “abuse and neglect/physical neglect” so those in poverty can get services instead of family separation.

The task force also wants to see MDHHS hire staff devoted to finding family or close friends. It says this could greatly reduce the number of children of color entering the foster care system.

The recommendations for policy and funding changes are meant to reduce the racial disparities embedded in the system. They are also meant to address concerns from those in the system. The task force interviewed stakeholders. The kids wanted more stability and prevention programs. Parents wanted more consistent policies across the state and to be treated with respect. And staff wanted a rebranding to make their goal of family preservation clear.

The task force hopes to have full implementation of all recommendations by January 2023.

Katheryne Friske is a fill-in host at Michigan Radio. She has a background in vocal music and education.