Could foster parenting be right for you?

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services there are nearly 13,000 children in foster care in Michigan with roughly 300 of those who need adoptive families. However, adoption rates are declining. The Child Welfare League of America reports that in 2015 1,765 children were legally adopted through a public child welfare agency in Michigan, a decrease of 17.4% from 2,138 in 2014.

Further there is a severe shortage of private foster care homes in Michigan. According to the Michigan League for Public Policy in 2015 Michigan’s use of emergency shelters and group homes for children in the child welfare system is among the nation’s highest, with one of every five children living in group homes or institutions.

"Nationally, one in seven children lives in group placements, even though federal law requires that they live in families whenever possible to help reduce the trauma of separation, abuse and neglect. Percentages of young people in such settings nationwide range from 4 percent in Oregon to 35 percent in Colorado. The percentage of Michigan foster children in group placements is among the nation’s highest at 18 percent, tying with Kentucky and Alabama for 36th."

Reading these statistics I realized I don’t know much about about the foster care system but I know someone who does, Lori Curry.

Lori has worked for the Department of Health and Human Services since 2002. She started as a direct foster care worker, moved into child protective services as an investigator, then processed adoptions for a year until she returned to foster care work. She has a bachelor’s degree in family life education and a master’s in family studies. She is currently pursuing her PhD in human services, specializing in social and community services.

Here she gives us some insight into her work and the mission of DHHS.

What is the mission of DHHS?

The official mission statement of the DHHS is “Improving the quality of life in Michigan by providing services to vulnerable children and adults that will strengthen the community and enable families and individuals to move toward independence.”

The Children’s Services Administration within DHHS covers the child protective service investigations and foster care services. Here is the process:

  1. A complaint is made to the protective services hotline, 888-444-3911 (this is also the number for reporting abuse against vulnerable adults).
  2. If it meets the criteria, it is forwarded to the appropriate county, then an investigator.
  3. If it is determined that the child is facing imminent risk of harm, then the investigator must file a petition with the court to remove the child from the home. Of course, there are always emergencies where the police can authorize a removal.
  4. Once a child has been removed from the home, they can either be placed with relatives if there is someone appropriate and available, or the child is placed into a foster home.
  5. Our first priority is reunification of the family. If that cannot occur, we want the child to find a permanent placement through adoption. The next goal would be a guardianship, then permanent placement with a fit and willing relative (usually for kids 14 or over who do not want to be adopted), and then finally APPLA, another planned permanent living arrangement, for teens 16 and over who wish to be independent.

The basis for determining if there is a need for removal is taken directly from Michigan Child Protection Law, MCL 722.

So if a child doesn’t have a relative that can care for them they are placed into a foster care home. Are they enough foster care homes?

No. We always need foster parents. As foster parents close their licenses, we need replacements. Some close after they adopt, some just decide they don’t want to foster any longer, some are closed by the state for various reasons.

What happens to a child if there is not an available foster care home for them?

Unfortunately, if there is no available home, the child is placed in a shelter until a foster home or relative can be found.

Is there a minimum age where a child cannot be placed in a group home/shelter?

There is a difference between group homes for children and shelters. Group homes, or residential placements, are for children who have violent or dangerous behaviors. There are a LOT of residentials in the state, mostly for teenagers but some take children as young as 4 years old.

Shelters are temporary placements for children who are not excepted into a residential for whatever reason, and for children who we cannot find a home for. It is very sad and distressing when we can’t find a home that will accept a baby. That’s unusual but not unheard of.

What is the process to become a licensed foster care parent?

Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can call the local DHHS office in their area or county. They will be connected with a licensing worker who will explain the process. There are background checks, home studies that include measuring bedrooms for space, and foster parent training class.

Do you need to be married?

No. But ANY adult residing in the home will need to have a background check. Adult children of the person wanting to be a foster parent, live together partners, grandparents, even boarders. If they live in your home, we have to clear them.  If they’re going to be a babysitter for you, we have to clear them.

Can LGBT people foster?

Yes. The State of Michigan does not discriminate. However, some agencies, such as Catholic Social Services, will not license LGBT people for fostering or adoption. It is okay as a LGBT person to ask an agency up front if they have a problem with you being licensed or adopting.

What type of support is available to foster care parents?

There are support groups for foster parents in most agencies and counties. Also, the foster care worker should be providing support and answering questions. If the foster parent doesn’t feel supported, they should contact the supervisor of the foster care worker and try to rectify any issues they have. Many counties have within their area or in a nearby county, a place called Foster Closet that provides free items and clothing to foster families when they get placement of a child(ren). Of course, licensed foster parents are paid a daily rate for caring for the children, it is around $15 to $20 a day, depending on the age of the child. This is supposed to cover most expenses including allowance for the child. We can also buy cribs or beds if necessary for the foster children.

The foster system and the family court process can be confusing. Always, always ask questions, no matter how silly they may sound to you or how often you’ve already asked.

When a child who is in foster care turns 18 does all of their support end or are there continuing programs for them?

When a teenager is in the foster care system, we are required to provide them with independent living services, regardless of their goal, beginning at the age of 14. We are to give them classes on budgeting, cooking, daily life skills, etc. When they turn 18, a few things can happen. It is not uncommon for an 18-year-old to decide they do not want anything to do with “the system” any longer. However, if they choose, they can remain with foster care in the young adult voluntary foster care program. This can stay open until they are 21. There are no court hearings, they receive a stipend, money for college, money for furniture for an apartment and even money for purchasing a car. If someone chooses to stay in the YAVFC program, there are a few stipulations, they must either be in school, working or volunteering for 80 hours a month.

Many colleges and universities around Michigan offer free tuition and support programs specifically for students who had been in foster care. This can be used in conjunction with YIT (Youth in Transition), TIP (Tuition Incentive Program), and ETV (Educational Training Voucher) monies that the State provides to young adults. The YIT money can be accessed any time from the teen’s 14th birthday for various items, including a class ring, prom dress, tuxedo rentals, senior pictures and athletic supplies.

If an 18-year-old leaves foster care and does not want any assistance, they can always come back and ask for help up to their 21st birthday.

Thank you Lori for sharing your work with us! Anyone interested in becoming a foster care or adoptive parent can find out more here.