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Family to Family Initiative Changes Child Welfare Decisions in Michigan

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FAMILY TO FAMILY INITIATIVE CHANGES CHILD WELFARE DECISIONS IN MICHIGAN
Issue 30, Winter 2006

FAMILY TO FAMILY INITIATIVE CHANGES CHILD WELFARE
DECISIONS IN MICHIGAN

by Rebecca Shiemke, MPLP Staff Attorney

In 2000, citing the disastrous condition of the Michigan Foster Care system, particularly in communities of color, Michigan through the Department of Human Services (DHS) received money from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to pilot the Family to Family initiative. The Family to Family initiative has four key strategies:

1) Recruitment, training and support of resource families (foster and relative). This includes finding local resources that can support children and families in their own neighborhoods by recruiting, training and supporting foster parents and relative caregivers;
2) Building community partnerships. This includes partnering with community organizations in neighborhoods with the highest referral rates to support families in the child welfare system to build stronger neighborhoods and stronger families.
3) Family team decision-making. This involves not just foster parents and caseworkers but also birth families and community members in all placement decisions.
4) Self-evaluation. This process using data linked to child and family outcomes to drive decision making, to show where change is needed, and where progress has been made.

Family to Family is currently operating in several Michigan counties and will be a statewide initiative by 2008. One part of the initiative is the Team Decision Making meeting, or TDM. Prior to the initiative, a decision to remove a child from his or her family was made solely by the child protective services worker and the supervisor, often with no input from the family or other community members. Under the initiative, a TDM is held for all decisions involving removal of a child, change of placement or reunification or other permanency plan. The goal of a TDM is to reach a team consensus decision regarding placement that protects the child and preserves the family. If a consensus cannot be reached, the ultimate decision rests with the DHS and Child Protective Services staff. In addition to CPS staff, the team may include birth parents, extended family, non-family supports, the child, community partners and service providers.

Despite the TDM family-focused team approach to placement decisions, there are several problematic issues, including possible legal liability for the non-offending parent.

First, although privacy is respected in a TDM, there is no guarantee of confidentiality. Any information shared may be used for case planning, but may also be used against a parent in court, to support a petition for removal and any new allegations of abuse or neglect must be reported.

Second, due to state-wide budgetary constraints, child protective services workers and others involved in the TDM process receive minimal training in the dynamics of domestic violence or cultural competency. This deficit provides an opportunity for domestic violence advocates to participate in TDM meetings and to educate team members during a TDM.

Third, there are no statewide protocols or guidelines for how the TDM meetings are to operate. Each county is given the freedom to devise its own TDM process to address unique local community needs.

Some of these issues have been or are being addressed by DHS. For instance, attorneys for birth parents cannot be prohibited from attending a TDM and a TDM cannot be used to execute legal documents, such as guardianships, personal protection orders, divorce agreements or affidavits. A number of local communities are drafting TDM protocols, most notably St. Clair County. These protocols are also intended to address the unique issues of families experiencing domestic violence, including safety for the survivor of the violence.

Finally, Michigan Poverty Law Program, Michigan Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence and Lakeshore Legal Aid are joining together to sponsor trainings for attorneys and domestic violence advocates in the summer of 2006 on how this initiative is affecting families.

For more information on Family to Family, including a guide for TDM meetings where domestic violence is present, go to: www.aecf.org/initiatives/familytofamily

 


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