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Report: MI Failing Foster Kids

PHOTO: Michigan needs to find more ways to keep kids in families, either their own or foster, according to a new report that looks at the consequences of group settings and emergency shelters on child development.
PHOTO: Michigan needs to find more ways to keep kids in families, either their own or foster, according to a new report that looks at the consequences of group settings and emergency shelters on child development.
May 19, 2015

LANSING, Mich. - When it comes to connecting kids in the child-welfare system with loving, supportive families, Michigan's track record is among the worst in the nation, according to new data out today.

The report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds nearly one in five of these kids living in emergency shelters, group homes or other institutions, even higher than the national average of one in seven.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids County Michigan program director with the Michigan League for Public Policy, says not only is this costing taxpayers more money, it can be physically and emotionally damaging to kids who already have suffered abuse and or neglect.

"During that critical period of their lives, they're not developing relationships that are going to see them through the next several years," she says. "We know there's another huge transition period after adolescence for young adults."

Zehnder-Merrell says group facilities, which she says often have the atmosphere of a detention center, should be used only as a last resort, with stronger justification required to place kids in those settings. Nationally, the report found that 40 percent of kids living in group settings had no clinical need for such a restrictive placement.

Despite rising rates of child abuse and neglect in the state, and more children being referred to the child welfare system, Zehnder-Merrell says state funding has been slashed for many of the preventive programs that help support and strengthen families, and keep them intact in the first place.

"It really speaks to the fact we don't have adequate community resources in place to help biological parents be able to provide for their children," says Zehnder-Merrell.

She adds, legislation currently under consideration in Lansing would further limit, rather than grow, the pool of foster and adoptive families by allowing faith-based adoption agencies to refuse services to potential parents based on religious beliefs.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI