Care System Fails Kids' Relatives
by Jack Kresnak, Detroit Free Press, September 9, 2003
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The Michigan Department of Human Services and the state's courts
are failing hundreds of children in foster care, partly because
not enough is being done to find relatives of the kids who might
make suitable parents, a report to the Michigan Supreme Court
The report, from the high court's Adoption Work Group, is to be
released today. The work group, made up of lawyers, judges and
child welfare specialists, details reasons that thousands of
children languish in foster care, often for years, as their
cases drag through Family Court and then appellate courts.
The report notes that in 2002 Michigan had 4,615 permanent state
wards with the goal of adoption, yet the state finalized 2,833
adoptions that year. More than 12,000 children are in the
state's foster care system.
Relatives and foster parents are frequently kept uninformed
about issues involving the children, the report said. After
parental rights are terminated, people who try to adopt related
children often find stiff resistance from foster parents and the
agencies supervising the children's care, the report said.
The group urges judges, court referees, the FIA and private
foster care agencies to increase efforts to locate relatives of
abused or neglected children in foster care, and to notify those
relatives of court hearings and other issues regarding the
"There is a gap in the statutes and rules that may
inappropriately limit participation by relatives," the report
The report also urges judges and referees to expedite legal
proceedings, and to enforce a state law that requires lawyers
representing children -- often called Guardians ad Litem, or
GALs -- to visit their clients in their foster homes or relative
placements. That law is believed to be widely disregarded by
many court-appointed GALs who say they aren't paid enough to
visit their clients. Family Court judges and referees rarely ask
GALs if they had visited their clients before quarterly review
hearings in court.
The state's appeals courts already are shortening the time
needed to hear appeals from fathers and mothers whose parental
rights were terminated, the report noted. But family court, the
FIA and attorneys for the children can do more to speedthe
process, the report said.
The report also recommends appealing to the public as part of
the effort to locate prospective adoptive parents. The FIA and
the courts are promoting Nov. 25 as Adoption Day in Michigan.
Chief Justice Maura Corrigan, a driving force behind efforts to
reform the foster care and adoption systems, said Monday that
"crisis" may be too strong a word to use -- although "every
child in a situation of being removed from home is in a crisis.
"The best safety nets that we have, they're not perfect and they
don't always work," Corrigan said. "The goal, I think, is to
reduce the need for safety nets in the first place."
FIA Director Nannette Bowler said, "a comprehensive attack on
the issues facing the foster care system will require the
cooperation of all involved."
Another problem noted in the report is the potential for
conflicting decisions on a particular child's adoption being
made by judges in different counties.
Late last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
reviewed Michigan's foster care and adoption systems and found
three areas that needed improvement:
on how to find permanent homes for children often lacked input
from parents, particularly fathers.
were holding permanency planning hearings -- required to be held
at least once a year -- in a timely manner in only 59 percent of
There was no
process for foster parents, pre-adoptive parents and caregivers
to be notified and have an opportunity to be heard at review
"We need to get
at these issues and see what we can do to be as accountable as
we can," Corrigan said.
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