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child welfare

Judson Center Parent Partner Kim Young.
Reel Clever Films

As a parent, you want your kids to grow and develop into successful adults. Providing a stable and safe home is an important part of doing that.

But families aren’t the only ones who are responsible for making sure kids are growing up in a safe environment. 

mom and four kids
April Van Buren / Michigan Radio

Foster care is supposed to be a temporary fix. When a child ends up in state care, the first goal is to reunite them with their birth families. But only about half of the 13,000 children in Michigan’s child welfare system every year end up going home. A small group of parents in Washtenaw County wants to change that. 

flickr/thibaud_saintin

Michelle Gach’s son was taken from her home nearly two years ago, when he was three year old. Police took him after he was found alone in a park across the street from the family’s home.

A judge later terminated Gach’s parental rights. These terminations happen all the time in Michigan. They create a permanent, legal separation between parents and their children. And, once the decision to terminate is made, it’s rarely reversed in Michigan.

But that’s what happened last week in Michelle Gach’s case.

Visionello / Flickr Creative Commons

The occasional weekend sleepover at a friend’s house...

Playing on the school basketball team...

Going on a class field trip...

Getting a cell phone...

Posting an update to Facebook...

Sound like pretty average activities for teenagers, right?

Not for teens in foster care.

For a number of reasons - like cost, liability, and biological parental rights - young people in Michigan’s child welfare system have long had to jump through multiple legal hoops to do things most people would consider “normal” for kids their age.

PAULA LAQUERRE

I first met Alex back in January, when I did a story about aging out of the foster care system.

Alex lives in rural Berrien County. At a minimum, he's 20 miles from everything; college classes, any work he could find, really everything. He didn't have a car, so he caught a lot of rides with Paula Laquerre, a state worker helping Alex as he left the foster care system. During those rides they would plot how Alex was going to finally get a car.

Brittany Bartkowiak / Michigan Radio

Last week I went to Washtenaw County's first-ever Family Reunification Day. The event, held in honor of  National Reunification Month in June, celebrated  four families who managed to complete their court-ordered permanency plan and be reunified with their kids. 

Jessica Lucia / Flickr

There was a protest at the University of Michigan hospital earlier this week about what one family says is a flawed child abuse investigation case. The protestors claim there’s a financial conflict of interest between the hospital and Child Protective Services because CPS pays U of M hospital to provide expertise on child abuse cases.

Riccardo Bandlera

Many kids in foster care (as many as 1 in 5 but more on the numbers later) don't live with a foster family, but instead live in something called a "group home." It's a form of institutional or residential placement that I know from personal experience is NO place to grow up. The white, concrete walls resemble a jail cell more than a bedroom and there are rules against giving other people hugs. Yes, you read that correctly - not even hugs are allowed under the "no physical contact" rule that still exists in some group homes today. 

Steve Rhodes / flickr

Michigan has been under a federal court order to improve its foster care system for years. The state wants the monitoring to stop, but there's no guarantee that's going to happen soon. 

Being the focus of federal oversight is probably a pain. There are a ton of reporting requirements, it costs money, and the state gets ordered around a lot. 

Paula Laquerre

It makes sense that young people who have been abused or neglected would be more likely to get in serious trouble. But the numbers are nonetheless pretty amazing. Almost half of the minors in the state's adult prison system get there from the child welfare system, and a child with a history of abuse and neglect is 55 percent more likely to be arrested. 

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