Photo by Any Lane
By Lily Bohlke
Michigan is taking steps to improve the child welfare system for National Foster Care Month.
In Michigan, nearly a quarter of young people who are in foster care at age 17 experience homelessness by the time they turn 19, and it jumps to about a third by 21. And unemployment rates for former foster youths are 2.5 times higher than the general youth population.
Demetrius Starling, executive director of the state’s Children’s Services Agency, said things such as wraparound and mental-health services have not always been available to families and kids in a timely manner.
“We’re looking at permanency, we’re looking at ways to wrap services around our families and communities and keep kids safely at home if at all possible,” Starling explained. “But also, we’re really looking to make sure that we keep siblings placed in foster care together, and also limit the time that children are spending in foster homes.”
The steps build on reforms that have been in progress for more than a decade, after a national advocacy group filed a class-action lawsuit in 2006 alleging constitutional and federal law violations regarding permanency of foster placements, lack of proper medical and dental care and few supports for those aging out of the system. Since then, there have been multiple consent decrees to make improvements.
Starling added National Foster Care Month is also a time to encourage individuals and families to consider fostering a child.
“Michigan right now has approximately 10,500 children in foster care at any given time,” Starling reported. “So we truly need foster families to keep these children safe, and to care for them until they can be returned to their family, which of course is our priority.”
He noted people who are interested can call one of the state’s foster-care navigators, at 855-MICH-KIDS. He said navigators are experienced in connecting potential foster families with the right agency and any guidance they may need.