July 17, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
For a long time now I’ve been arguing that state children’s welfare agencies need to take a different tack when it comes to children at risk of abuse or neglect. My comments have always been informed by veterans in the field of child protection who repeatedly urge their agencies to intervene in risky families before there’s trouble and to provide services to families in need. They recommend that in lieu of waiting until a child is abused and then taking him/her from the parents and into some form of foster care. Even temporary foster care is traumatic for the child and expensive for the state.
So why not follow the recommendations of those experts? Well, three counties in Michigan are doing just that and, with the help of the federal government, seem to be succeeding at helping parents be better at their job and keeping kids in their care and out of the clutches of CPS (MLive, 7/13/16). Remarkably, the federal government approved of those counties’ redirection of funds away from foster care and toward prevention.
Good for it. As things stand now, federal law and largess tend strongly to act the opposite way. Federal money for placing children into foster care and adopting them out of foster care is perhaps the prime mover in states’ drive to do those things. One former state senator from North Dakota labelled as “huge” the advent of federal monetary incentives for taking kids from parents. He said it changed North Dakota’s behavior toward kids and foster care as nothing else has.
So it’s a breath of fresh air to learn that Washington is permitting states to use its money to experiment with doing things differently.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says a pilot project being tested in three counties that provides services to help keep at-risk families together is working.
Protect MiFamily was launched in 2013 in Kalamazoo, Muskegon and Macomb counties and uses federal money that would have otherwise gone towards placing children in foster care. It consists of prevention, preservation and support services for families with children from birth to 5 years old who are at-risk of maltreatment.
The pilot project is halfway through a five-year demonstration period, and state officials held a news conference Wednesday at the Kalamazoo County MDHHS office to discuss a progress report. Findings reported by the statistical services company Westat and the University of Michigan in a review of Protect MiFamily program show:
For families who completed the entire program, 4.6 percent of children were removed from their homes compared to 10.8 percent of children in a control group of families in the three counties that did not receive Protect MiFamily services.
All three phases of the project have results of over 90 percent satisfaction for families that participated in the Family Satisfaction Survey.
And according to the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment findings, 30 percent of children showed significant improvement in well-being at the post-assessment.
It’s great to see this being tried and even better to see it working reasonably well. The experts I’ve always found persuasive have long argued that the difference between a child being taken from its family and the family’s remaining intact is often little more than the recognition by a social worker of the difference between poverty and neglect. The line between the two can be a fine one. Does the parent just not care or is he/she so hamstrung by everyday issues that quality childcare isn’t feasible? Does the child spend time alone at home because Mom’s work schedule and lousy public transportation don’t permit her to be there until late afternoon? Is little Andy or Jenny not getting needed medication because Mom or Dad is too negligent to attend to the matter or because the parent can’t afford it and doesn’t know about services to provide it another way?
Often, parenting consists of knowing how to provide your child what he/she needs. Sometimes that requires help from a person whose job it is to know what services are available and how to access them. And of course many parents, particularly young ones, need help in the basics of everyday parenting.
Allowing caseworkers to provide that sort of early intervention, training and provision of services is precisely what CPS should be doing as often as possible. Those types of interventions improve parental behavior, prevent abuse and neglect of children and obviate the necessity of taking children from their homes and parents. Plus, although I don’t know this for a fact, my strong belief is that the social workers at CPS agencies would a thousand times rather teach good parenting than tear children from their families. After all, it has to feel better, more positive, more productive, to guide a parent toward good parenting and leave the family intact than to be the agent of family break-up.
"People tend to think of us (CPS) as removing children from families," said Clinton Lewis, CPS Program Manager for MDHHS, Kalamazoo County. "We're trying to provide services to make families stronger."
To me, that sounds like a man who’d rather help parents do a better job with their kids than barge in and haul the children away.
And of course, in the long run at least, early intervention is less expensive than foster care and the endless legal proceedings required to figure out if parental rights should be maintained or terminated.
What’s not to like?
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