by Elizabeth Gibbons
The Department of Health and Human Services child welfare agency in Michigan has been under federal investigation for almost a decade, and despite some advancements in their work, are still seeing an increased number of child deaths due to abuse or negligence while in state care. In fact, more children are dying now than they were when Michigan first settled a federal lawsuit and set out to improve its child welfare system in 2008. Michigan has doubled the child welfare budget, doubled staff, created an ombudsman to ensure accountability, and installed a computer data program to track data. However, 2016 saw a record number of child deaths and subsequent investigations by the ombudsman. Those investigations culminated in March 2018; the ombudsman’s final assessment showed that the Department of Health and Human Services did everything right in only 6% of cases. The problems seem to lie in high employee turnover rates and frequent violation of the laws and policies meant to protect children by supervisors. There is also a general lack of training, many foster families are not trained or do not have the resources to raise mentally challenged or traumatized children and employees are often given huge caseloads with very little support. Better leadership is needed to change this deeply flawed child welfare system to one that actually makes a difference for children and families who are vulnerable.
Changes are coming to Kentucky’s foster care system. House Bill 1 was passed in April 2018 by Governor Matt Bevin and will make changes to the state’s child welfare system and foster care. Those changes include: stricter deadlines for biological parents to make improvements, or risk forfeiting parental rights and allowing their children to be adopted; greater authority will be given to foster parents over matters big and small, such as representing the child in court hearings or letting the child get a haircut; a new and confidential registry of “putative fathers” (men who might be the father, but have not claimed parental rights) will be made available to adoptive families to reduce the chances of last-minute legal challenges to their adoption process; a new oversight committee will publically investigate all complaints and will recommend solutions to the legislative session; and finally, a third party group will investigate the foster care system and, in 2019, recommend if Kentucky should privatize. The attention given to children and families in the foster care system is appreciated, but these changes have to properly implemented and accounted for in order to see improvements.
The California Border
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement operates under the policy of removing children from their families at the border and giving those children to shelters as “unaccompanied minors.” The parents of those “unaccompanied minors” are detained at the border, despite seeking asylum from violence or instability, and forced to wait for long stretches of time separated from their children. Immigration authorities believe forcible separation will deter families from entering the United States, despite the fact that most of these families are desperately seeking asylum. On Friday, May 4th, a San Diego federal court judge heard directly from lawyers representing parents whose children have been taken from them, and the ACLU will request a nationwide injunction to reunite families and stop future separations. The American Academy of Pediatrics, members of Congress, and child welfare organizations across the nation have spoken out about this practice. See more here.