By Anne Stanton
Michigan was once a leader for keeping kids with their families by
providing intensive support services to families like parenting classes
and job skill training, said child protection advocate Richard Wexler.
In the mid 1990s, Michigan was still a leader, Illinois was a disaster.
But then Illinois looked at Michigans innovations and made them work,
But then Michigans commitment to prevention and working with families
diminished and so did the dollars. Secondly, the Binsfeld laws were passed
in 1996 to unclog the courts and to give permanency to children left
hanging in foster care. If parents couldnt prove they could care for
their children within a year, they lost them forever. But the law
effectively funneled thousands more kids into foster care with no hope of
adoption. In 1994, there were 2,972 legal orphans or state wards. In 2006,
there were 6,292, according to Michigan DHS statistics.
Michigan now has twice as many legal orphanskids whose parents rights
have been terminated but who have little realistic hope of being adopted
because of their age, behavior or medical problems, or because they are
part of large sibling groups that ideally would be adopted together,
wrote 28th Circuit Judge Kenneth Tacoma in a scathing critique, The
Unintended Consequences of the Binsfeld Law.
Tacoma and others have fought successfully for reformparticularly,
allowing relatives to receive benefits for taking in children, which
allows the kids and parents to stay connected.
But for every step forward is a step backward. In 2006, Michigan first
accepted, and then spurned a waiver that would have allowed DHS to use up
to $100 million in foster care funding alternatives.
This month, the Family Group Decision Making Program was cut, a program
that worked with troubled families and kids. The program was piloted in
Northern Michigan and served nearly 370 families. It also helped kids who
were aging out of the foster care system to navigate college, jobs, and
The cut will save the state $800,000 this year, and $2.5 million next
year. But former area DHS Director Mary Marois said it will cost us in the
Do you think Michigan is thinking about the long run? Weve got to get
through this year Nobody is looking at what this is going to cost us
five to ten years from now. Weve already dumped prevention; what else is
there to cut?
Does Area Have High Rate of
Removal of Kids from Homes?
By Anne Stanton
Grand Traverse County had the third highest removal rate of children in
the state of Michigan in 2008, according to a report by the National
Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR).
Dawn McLaughlin, who now heads DHS for Grand Traverse and Leelanau
counties, questioned those figures.
I dont think its true. I dont think the statistics are accurate.
Were a dual county agency and we get combined with Leelanau County. Our
stats internally dont reflect what theyre saying, and the court
statistics dont reflect it. Anybody can take a statistic and come to a
conclusion, and it doesnt make it true.
Richard Wexler, head of the NCCPR countered that McLaughlins statements
are misleading. His data are lifted directly from DHS statistics and the
United States Census Bureau.
When we calculated the numbers, Leelanau made almost no difference
because its so small. Thats why I didnt include it among the ranked
counties, Wexler said. But just to humor Ms. McLaughlin I combined the
two counties and recalculated the figures. When you do that, the rate of
removal does drop - slightly, from 39.2 to 34.1, and the ranking for the
combined region goes from third worst to merely fifth worst.
But why calculate rate of removal using the number of poor children,
rather than the number of total children in the county?
Responded Wexler: We could have simply compared the number of children
removed to a countys total child population. But then all the counties
with high rates-of-removal and high child poverty rates would complain
that this was unfair because we didnt consider the single largest risk
factor for actual abuse, not to mention the factor most often confused
with neglect poverty. So, in order to factor that out, and come closer to
an apples-to-apples comparison, we compare removals to the number of
impoverished children in each county.
The report shows that wealthier Grand Traverse County has three and a half
times the removal rate of Wayne County, a much poorer countya strong
indication DHS is mistaking poverty for neglect, he said.
Mary Marois, former area DHS Director, hypothesizes the high numbers owe,
in part, to Munson Medical Center being a regional hospital. All infants
born with drug addictions or children who are suspected of being abused
are run through Grand Traverse County for investigation and then turned
over to the county of residence. This could affect the numbers, she
Wexler didnt agree, saying the termination of parental rights and removal
take place in a parents county of residence.