The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services continues to face challenges in meeting the majority of goals outlined in a federal consent decree, as highlighted in a recent biannual review conducted by court monitors. These goals include ensuring an adequate number of foster homes for children in the state and prioritizing the placement of siblings together after they have been removed from their homes. According to the monitors, the state is still facing challenges in effectively investigating cases of abuse or neglect in foster care.
The Michigan department has been under federal court oversight due to a settlement of a 2006 class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of children who were allegedly mistreated in state care. An agreement was reached between Children’s Rights, an advocacy agency based in New York, and the state in June 2019. This agreement resulted in the relaxation of certain oversight measures, as the requirements for creating assessments, service plans, and provisions of services were amended.
In the most recent monitoring report, which spans from July to December 2022, it has been revealed that the state experienced a decline in foster homes throughout the year. This decline has posed challenges in finding suitable homes for siblings, children with disabilities, and older children.
“The court monitors stated in their review that the significant home losses have had a detrimental impact on the placement array for children.” The monitoring team has engaged in discussions with DHHS regarding the necessity for the agency to create and execute specific, comprehensive plans to enhance the licensing and upkeep of foster homes, including those catering to special populations.
A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Lynn Sutfin, has stated that the department has been actively seeking new foster families. This effort includes regular communication with individuals who have expressed interest in fostering, as well as a paid advertising campaign.
“Foster families are urgently needed throughout the state to ensure the safety and well-being of these children, providing them with the care they require until they can be reunited with their families or placed with a nurturing adoptive family,” stated Sutfin. Michigan has taken a comprehensive approach to address the need for homes for children in care. The state has focused on recruiting new homes and improving efforts to retain existing homes.
According to the spokesperson, state officials have been prioritizing the placement of children with relatives in order to ensure they can remain with their family. According to the spokesperson, the state has made significant investments in family-finding resources and has also established staff positions to effectively identify and provide support to relatives.
According to Sutfin, there has been a significant decrease in the number of children in foster care, dropping from 19,000 in 2008 to less than 10,000 at present. According to Sutfin, the Michigan department is taking additional measures to offer services to families in order to help them keep their children in their homes.
However, Michigan continues to face challenges in licensing additional foster homes. In 2022, the organization failed to meet its target of licensing 965 new non-relative homes, achieving only 87.6% of the desired number. 845 homes were licensed, however, throughout the year, a total of 1,359 homes were closed, resulting in a net loss of 514 homes. In the first three months of 2023, the state continued to experience a decline in the number of homes, despite its goal for 2023 being set at 902 homes.
According to Fostering Media Connections, a nonprofit organization that surveys states for foster home information, the state had a total of 4,169 licensed foster homes as of March 31, 2023. Although the monitors’ review did not provide the exact number of foster homes, this data sheds light on the current situation.
“According to court monitors, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in (state fiscal year) 2022 faced significant challenges in addressing the issue of net foster home losses and improving the licensing process for foster homes catering to siblings and adolescents,” stated the latest report. “The placement array for children was compromised due to significant home losses, resulting in the separation of siblings and the placement of children in shelters.”