Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Foster care in Michigan: The case of the phantom foster children

Among the many revelations in the latest report from the monitor overseeing the Michigan child welfare consent decree is this, on page 53:

when a child is removed from home, the child was not registering in the database [that counts entries into care] as a child in care until such time as the case had been assigned to a foster care worker and the worker or supervisor completed the entry information in the database. As a result, a child could be physically in care for several days without registering as a child in care for reporting purposes.

And that raises an intriguing question:

What about cases in which DHS needlessly removes a child, quickly realizes the blunder, and, in two or three days, sends the child home (much the worse for the experience)?  Will anyone, aside from those directly involved in the case, ever know the child even was in foster care?  And is this leading to an undercount of the number of children taken from their homes in Michigan each year?

The federal government recognizes that even a very short placement can traumatize a child.  It requires that any time a child welfare agency causes a child to be removed from the home for more than 24 hours it must be reported as an entry into care.

Kansas has found a way to evade this rule, and there is solid evidence that, as a result, the real number of entries in that state is double or triple the official figure.  (For details, see our report on Kansas child welfare.)

In Michigan there is nothing to indicate this is deliberate – just another example of the general incompetence of the state Department of Human Services.  And Michigan may be more inclined to want to make use of the one advantage of making sure you count every entry into care – it’s the only way to get federal aid to help pay for those few days of foster care, if the case is eligible for such reimbursement. 

But placements with relatives in those unlicensed homes that the group that so arrogantly calls itself Children’s Rights hates so much don’t qualify for federal reimbursement – so there is no incentive to get the data right, and some incentive not to bother, since it will make the number of entries look lower.

For that matter, if the case never officially existed, what implications does that have for the accuracy of caseload counts used to determine if DHS is complying with other parts of the decree?

More on the DHS Data Disaster tomorrow.