Too many children are unnecessarily placed in foster care


Lawmakers should act on report that too many children are pushed into foster care

April 13, 2009

A task force has concluded the same thing several judges have been saying about Michigan's child welfare system: The state is too quick to permanently terminate parental rights, throwing too many children into foster care. That was among the deficiencies cited in a draft report by the Michigan Child Welfare Task Force posted online recently.

The task force, established by Human Services Director Ismael Ahmed, said a disproportionate level of state funding goes to programs such as foster care or group living that pull children from their homes. Not enough is being spent on programs to quell abuse or delinquency, the task force found.

That adds to the weight of observations from probate judges such as Wexford County's Kenneth Tacoma. His widely noted analysis last year said the foster care system can't handle the influx of additional children made "legal orphans" under a 1996 law change that increased parental terminations.


Tacoma, Chief Wayne County Probate Judge Milton Mack and others have recommend that terminations be slowed and judges be given more discretion. Judges should be able to appoint temporary guardians, they say, and if the parents can be rehabilitated, the children could be returned to them.

Ahmed is boosting caseworker staffing with added money approved last year by lawmakers. He's also beefing up background checks on would-be foster care providers.

In the light of the latest report -- especially with the department facing a potential $10-million budget cut next year -- the judges' recommendations seem like another step that should be taken. Lawmakers should make the necessary changes as soon as possible.


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