Coalition finds children of color overrepresented in foster care

  LANSING - Children of color are more likely to enter and remain in the foster care system longer than white children, leaders of the Michigan Coalition for Race Equity in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice advised in a report released Tuesday.


The nonpartisan coalition released new data showing that children of color are  overrepresented in the child welfare system and called for strong state and local responses. The coalition also presented a roadmap of recommendations for policymakers to follow in improving the child welfare system - particularly for children who are racial minorities. The group is co-chaired by Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly and Lynn Jondahl, a former state representative who has remained active in the public policy arena.
“We’ve got a system where the trend lines identify overrepresentation of children and youth of color. Too often, our most vulnerable children remain in the system and never go home,” Jondahl said.

“The best way to improve policies and practices is through accurate and meaningful data,” Justice Kelly said. “Social service agencies, law enforcement and the courts have a responsibility to work together to collect information and to use that information to  improve outcomes for children entering the system.”

The coalition examined Michigan child welfare data from 2010-2013 and found a pattern of disparate outcomes. Among the 2013 findings for children of color when compared with outcomes for white
children:

• African-American children were 64 percent more likely to have formal investigations initiated into possible abuse and neglect by their parents or others.

• Even though the investigations of African-American families showed relatively fewer cases of the most serious abuse and neglect, the children were 26 percent more likely to be removed from their homes and placed in foster care.

• African-American children were more than twice as likely to “age out” of the foster care system, meaning they were unable to return to their families or be permanently placed with another relative or an adoptive family.

• Hispanic children were 40 percent more likely to be removed from their homes.

“The overrepresentation of minority children in the child welfare system is severe,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, project director of KIDS COUNT at the Michigan League for Public Policy. “The human cost of lost potential, and the financial costs when children grow up with bleak futures erode the social and economic vitality of our state.”

“The reasons for the disproportionate representation of children of color are complex and likely vary from county to county,” she added. “That’s why it’s important that leaders in each county examine their own data and convene stakeholders to bolster hope and  opportunity for children of color.”

The findings were also presented at the May Forum of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

The coalition includes children and family services agencies, juvenile justice leaders, members of the judiciary, educators, philanthropic organizations, and many others. Its work has been supported by the State Court Administrative Office, Casey Family Programs, the Michigan Department of Human Services and the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency.

The data were collected and analyzed by Lansing-based Public Policy Associates, Inc.

Disproportionate minority contact in child welfare and juvenile justice is a problem across the country. The coalition was formed in 2011 to examine the problem in Michigan.

Foster children — especially those who remain in the system until they age out - are at much greater risk of homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration when they become adults.

The coalition issued 42 recommendations. Highlights include:

• Agencies should place emphasis on prevention and early intervention.

• The state should target early-childhood, community-based services to the communities where disproportionality exists.

• Several counties should launch pilot projects to reduce racial disproportionality among children and youth.

• A reinvestment fund should be created by the Legislature to carry forward savings in state and private funding dedicated to serving children and families. Funds saved through prevention programs that keep children out of foster care and detention facilities, or reunification services that bring families together sooner, need to be earmarked for reinvestment in those communities and/or the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

• DHS should partner with the Department of Community Health to implement a strategy for measuring the well-being of each child entering and exiting the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and develop a plan for improving outcomes.

• DHS and the State Court Administrative Office should collaborate to make sure that appropriate data collection and tracking systems are in place.

• A “Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice Equity Advisory Board” should be created to review progress, discuss new developments, and facilitate continued coordination.

“Having accurate and credible data is an essential step in identifying and understanding the problem, DHS Director Maura Corrigan said. “The coalition’s report provides a foundation for local efforts by stakeholders to address their unique situations.”

The coalition praised the collaborative work already taking place in Saginaw, which has served as a demonstration project for developing and implementing plans for eliminating overrepresentation of racial minorities in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

“In Saginaw, we are united in our commitment to taking an honest look at our system, and doing the hard work to improve programs, policies and, ultimately, lives,” said Saginaw County Probate Judge Faye Harrison, who is leading the work. “It’s vital to everyone’s future as we build a stronger region where families want to live and businesses can prosper.”

To see the full report, visit http://tinyurl.com/REC-Findings. For more information about the Michigan Coalition for Race Equity in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice, visit
http://tinyurl.com/MiRaceEquity