Monday, July 18, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: Here comes the new settlement, just like the old settlement

UPDATE, JULY 19: I discussed the failings of the new consent decree on The Craig Fahle Show on WDET public radio.  You can hear it here.

            The previous post to this blog predicted a disgusting spectacle in a federal court in Michigan today – and that’s just what it was.

            Sure enough, according to one news account, there was DHS Director Maura Corrigan “cracking jokes” with one of the lawyers suing DHS on behalf of the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights” (CR) as they agreed to a new settlement which is every bit as bad as the old settlement.

For the vulnerable children of Michigan, there is nothing to laugh about.  They gain absolutely nothing.  And all the harmful provisions of the old decree remain in effect.  That guarantees that many more children in Michigan will be shedding a lot more tears, while Corrigan and her new pals at CR pat each other on the back.


            The worst provision of the old settlement required grandparents and other relatives taking in their own family to comply with all of the hypertechnical licensing requirements imposed on strangers. 

            Of course, certain minimal health and safety standards are essential.  But the Michigan regulations, all ten single-spaced pages of them, go far beyond that; often revolving around middle-class creature comforts.  As I’ve noted often before, the apartment in Hawaii where President Obama was raised by his grandmother could not have passed inspection under the Michigan standards.

            The old settlement included cumbersome bureaucratic procedures to allow for the occasional exemption from some of these requirements or for waivers from licensing.  But the overall message was clear: The safer easier path, not for the families, but for DHS workers, was to say: No license, no child.

            That’s exactly what DHS has done.  As a result, by March, 2010, anywhere from 1,500 to 2,400 children had been expelled from the homes of their own grandparents and other relatives.  By September 30 of that year, the figure probably was at least 1,300 higher.   No one is keeping track of what happens to them.  Neither DHS nor CR seems to care.

            The new settlement changes none of this.  It has the same cumbersome procedures, and that sends the same dreadful message to the frontlines.  This puts at risk every grandchild now in the loving home of a grandmother or grandfather who is not licensed in accord with the bureaucratic mentality of DHS and CR. 

            Another onerous provision from the original settlement appears to give a preference to adoption of a child by total strangers over guardianship by a relative.  That, too, remains in the new agreement.


            The old settlement required DHS to conduct a “needs assessment” and then, based on that assessment, spend a small amount of money on services to help families.  By implication this was supposed to be additional money.  But DHS played a shell game.  DHS simply cut existing services to help families to fund the ones called for in the needs assessment.  DHS also has cut other prevention and family preservation services to fund other parts of the settlement, like the child abuse investigator / foster care worker hiring binge.

            Having seen how disingenuous DHS was about the first settlement, one would think that the new settlement would include a specific requirement that new funding for prevention and family preservation be additional funds, not just money moved from one pot to another.

            There is no such provision in the new settlement.

            That’s not surprising.  Since the settlement is with a group, CR, that doesn’t give a damn about keeping children safely in their own homes, obviously CR isn’t going to fight to avoid cuts to those programs.


The original settlement contained an attempt to repeal the laws of human nature known as “concurrent planning.”  Under concurrent planning, people who desperately want to adopt a child – and the child welfare agencies that desperately want those people to adopt -- are told, in effect: “Now remember, your first goal is to work with the birth parents and do everything you can to help them get the child back – but if, by some chance, you fail at this then you get what you really want – someone else’s child for your very own.”

One parent in New Jersey was honest enough to tell The New York Times what she called “the mantra” of parents in this kind of program, which is: “I’m on the next plane to South America if they think they’re getting this baby back.”

Meanwhile, the caseworkers are supposed to work equally hard to get the child adopted by people they like and can identify with – typically middle-class foster parents - as they do to try to reunite the child with people they often can’t stand, overwhelmingly poor disproportionately minority birth parents.

The new settlement continues “concurrent planning.”  Anything else would have been a shock, given that it’s hard to know who is more fanatical about adoption-at-all-costs, the director of CR, Marcia Lowry, or the Director of DHS, Maura Corrigan. 


            The original settlement was nearly silent on efforts to keep children in their own homes.  So is the new settlement.  Once again no surprise.  Keeping families together is the best option for the overwhelming majority of children the overwhelming majority of the time, it is of almost no interest to either Corrigan or Lowry.

            So children at risk of foster care in Michigan, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately minority, remain at the mercy of CR and DHS, both of which appear to far prefer seeing them in the  middle-class suburban homes of strangers than in the poor, urban but loving homes that most of them came from.

            Only one question remains.  When Corrigan signed the new document, did she do it herself with a pen, or did she do it the Michigan way and just have some clerk  rubber-stamp it?

See the previous post to this Blog for a review of the record of DHS – and Maura Corrigan.