Thursday, February 01, 2007

Michigan foster care system in need of reform

Two-year-old Isaac Lethbridge was removed from his parents on charges of neglect, and placed into a foster home by state. His parents, Matt and Jennifer Lethbridge, had already lost custody of Issac's eight siblings, due to neglect. Jennifer is currently pregnant with her tenth child.

Isaac didn't choose his parents - and he certainly didn't choose his foster placement, where he was beaten to death. He did not choose to be burned, beaten and sexually abused within this foster care placement.

Isaac was the third child to die under the state's watch during the last 18 months.

Recent suggestions that have been made by Michigan residents include:

* Accreditation: Less than half of the 500 licensed child-placing agencies in Michigan are accredited.

"The state should push for accreditation of the 500 public and private agencies involved in managing care for foster children. Even stricter than the federal requirement of licensing for care, this would bring much needed accountability to the system, giving agencies and caseworkers a clear set of guidelines for monitoring care - or risking the loss of their accreditation and jobs."

* Smaller caseloads and more strategic use of staff: Michigan caseworkers typically handle caseloads of 20 children or more, which is higher than the national standard. The department has fewer than 10,000 workers, and training funds have been cut.

"The state assigns dozens of workers to monitor case files to make sure agencies meet state laws. It would be more efficient to assign them, in SWAT team fashion, to complaints so that everyone knows what's under investigation and what's being done about it. This could help caseworkers with their loads as well."

* Mandatory psych evaluations:
"Now, the state puts potential caregivers and foster parents through criminal background checks and makes sure they don't appear on the state registry of people with histories of child mistreatment. Psychological tests, which cost at least $200 apiece, would help better judge the fitness level of people the state asks to care for its children."

* Watch out for 'collector families:' Illinois, which is being upheld as a model for Michigan to follow,their changed licensing rules to rule out placing more than six children in a foster home, except in rare cases. In Michigan, it's not uncommon for foster homes to have as many as eight foster children.

"Do more with less" always means money
Children's Rights, a New York-based advocacy group sued the state in August 2006.

Michigan's budget deficit is projected at more than $800 million for the current fiscal year.

Federal foster-care reimbursements to counties are less than they ever have been. Wayne County, which handles about one-third of all of the children in foster care in the state, now pays out an extra $40 million a year for foster children, due to federal reimbursement drop-offs.

More than 3 in 4 children entering foster care in Michigan do so because of parental neglect, not abuse. It is interesting to note that a few years ago, Michigan was considered a model for other states because of its family preservation programs. That was before funds were cut, and programs preventing maltreatment, including parenting classes, were eliminated.

There was also a "changing of the guard." Early retirements and staff reductions at DHS since the late 1990s have resulted in the loss of 4,000 workers - many of whom have been described as the most-seasoned and best-trained staffers.

Photo from
Dickerson, Brian. How many chances do parents get? Detroit Free Press. Jan. 31, 2007.
Kresnak, Jack. System overhaul could be only hope - faster adoptions, smaller caseloads seen as solutions. Detroit Free Press, Jan. 30, 2007.

Valenti, Mark. Reform system to save children - tight budges are no excuse when foster children's lives are at risk. Detroit Free Press, Jan. 31, 2007.

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This comment has been removed by the author.
I wonder what they consider neglect
If you are interested, here's his family's webpage:
His oldest sister has died in foster care, too...

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