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    Foster Care Policy Issues in Michigan
                According to the Department of Human Services, the foster care program is based on the following guidelines:
     
    1.      Whenever possible, the department should preserve the child's family. A child should be separated from his family only when the family is absent or is unwilling or unable, even with assistance, to provide a minimally acceptable family life.
    2.       If the child cannot be protected from abuse or neglect in his home, and removal is necessary, the primary focus of services is directed toward problem resolution so the child may be returned.
    3.      The purpose of foster care is to provide continuity, consistency and permanency in a family setting for the growing child. If return home is not possible, alternative permanent plans must be pursued. Current foster care policy directs the case worker to appropriate service delivery and timely permanent planning decisions. Independent living services must be provided to older youths to ensure a successful transition to adulthood once they exit the foster care system.
    4.      To improve results for children and families in the foster care system, four key Family to Family strategies are used: active community partnership, neighborhood-based recruitment and retention of foster homes, self evaluation and data-driven decisions and team decision meetings with the involvement of both birth parents and foster parents.
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    Michigan has the seventh largest child welfare system in the United States, yet a very low percentage of state and local money is set aside for this very important issue. Foster care is a very broad issue with many sub-issues such as the availability of capable and safe foster parents, funding for the program, moving children into foster care and out of violent situations if need be, and providing children with homes that can be made permanent.
                With Michigan’s economy being so impaired, a prevailing question in the realm of foster care is whether or not it would be more beneficial to completely privatize foster care. With the strict amount of monetary funds available, the budget may not be able to maintain a sound foster care system, although this is a priority for Michigan’s legislature. Foster care seems to be used much more frequently in recent years, which presents itself as a problem when the state budget deficit is so large. This leads to cuts in staff and other important aspects of the system.
                The reduced staff also leads to problems in addressing the many problems that children in foster care experience. As time goes on, children have begun to have more severe problems that require specialized foster care. With the lack of staff, children do not receive the attention that they deserve. Rather than having the ideal 30:1 children to social worker, Michigan has fallen short by close to two hundred social workers, according to the Mackinaw Center.
                Yet another possibility would be to completely cut private companies out of the foster care budget. Currently, Michigan contracts certain cases out to private organizations. Another path that Michigan’s foster care policy could take would be to cut these companies out and only use the public foster care system. In order for this to be a viable option, it would be necessary for more research to be conducted in regards to the costs of maintaining a government-run foster care system and then comparing these costs to the current budget that we have set that goes to private companies.
                Another important matter in regards to foster care is the safety and security provided by the homes that these children enter. In recent years, Michigan has been in national news for numerous child abuse cases. Between 2005 and 2006, three unnecessary deaths occurred at the hands of foster parents. According to three independent studies that were conducted on Michigan’s child welfare system, it “...fails to meet even minimum standards of practice in its operation and administration of the child welfare system in Michigan, resulting in severe and ongoing harm to children in foster care.” Legislation has been put into place to attempt to protect these children from the harm that they may fall in. For example, Public Act 218 of 2007 sponsored by Senator Gerald Van Woerkom (R), the Department of Human Services is required to conduct national criminal background checks on all licensees in prospective foster care homes.
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    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Meet your Policy Fellow: Jocelyn Cutean

    Jocelyn Cutean serves as Morality and Family policy correspondent for the Michigan Policy Network. She is a first-year student at Michigan State, majoring in Theatre and English. Jocelyn has experience working on the executive board of the Waterford Chapter Coalition for Youth. She has also piloted a grant funded city wide public service announcement entitled, "It Just Wasn't Worth It" which exposes the repercussions of driving while intoxicated. Jocelyn enjoys art of all forms, from writing to performance.