Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care

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Over the past several months, The New Foster Care has been busy advocating for the enactment of a series of bills requiring the establishment of a new Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) policy entitled The Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Policy and delineating its minimal requirements. In 2018, many legislators across Michigan attended candidate forums to listen to issues within the Foster Care System. The legislature’s desire to understand the presented issues created momentum. In the spirit of bipartisanship, legislators overwhelmingly passed the package of bills in December of 2018. In the Senate, the vote was unanimous and, in the House, there were 107 votes “Yes” and 2 votes “No”. We believe this bill package provides safeguards for children in foster care and empowers them to become effective self-advocates.

THE PROBLEM

Over 13,000 children are currently placed in foster care in Michigan. Though most will eventually be reunited with their families and some will be adopted, the time spent in foster care can be difficult and scary; and therefore, often negatively impacts children throughout their lives. Foster children are at greater risk for teen pregnancy, homelessness, poverty, incarceration, dropping out of school, and domestic violence (either as victims or perpetrators). For example, only 3% of children who were in foster care graduate from college. However, steps can be taken to mitigate such negative outcomes.

For example, over the past few years, 15 states and Puerto Rico have enacted what are known as Foster Children Bills of Rights. Such laws are designed to inform foster children of their rights within the child welfare system. Many include provisions requiring that the children be informed about why they are in foster care and how the process will proceed, provided access to guardians ad litem and physical and behavioral health care, and, when feasible, that siblings be placed together and that children be placed with family.

The MDHHS adopted a new policy in 2015 that incorporated many of these practices. At The New Foster Care we are encouraged that the policy has been codified in law, ensuring that these practices are continued and given the full weight of law. We appreciate Michigan’s Children for taking a leading role in educating the legislature and the public on the potential impact of the proposed legislation.

These acts amend the Foster Care and Adoption Services Act and codify MDHHS’s current policy practice regarding children in foster care and ensure that these practices will be continued in future years. The provisions included in the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Policy will not only create statutory protection of the rights of foster children, they will also go a long way in empowering these children and reducing the potential for emotional harm. Knowing that a placement change should not also mean a change in schools (and leaving friendships that may be a source of comfort and support), that an effort will be made to keep sibling groups intact, and that there is a process by which a foster child could be heard when a grievance needs to be filed, builds up a child’s sense of self-worth rather than tearing it down. Having rights clearly spelled out reduces the uncertainty that goes with being a foster child. Advocates for children say that many foster children could be effective advocates for themselves, if only they knew how. These acts give them that knowledge.

Public Act No. 489 of 2018’s stated purpose is to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) develops and implements the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Policy. Moreover, the act requires the policy to include language ensuring that children placed in foster care are provided with the following:

  • Fair, equal, and respectful treatment, which includes treatment that doesn’t violate state and federal law.
  • When appropriate, placement with relatives and siblings.
  • Inventory and security of the child’s personal belongings.
  • Age-appropriate transition planning that includes housing, workforce preparation, and financial education.
  • Ongoing contact and visits with parents, relatives, and friends if court-permitted.
  • For children with disabilities, access to advocacy services.
  • Timely enrollment in school with consistent placement in the same school when possible.
  • Participation in extracurricular activities as allowed by the supervising agency’s resources and accounting for the foster parent’s schedule and resources.
  • Placement in the least restrictive setting. If discipline is required, and physical restraint is used by a child caring institution, a detailed report of the incident by the institution would have to be provided to MDHHS.
  • Access to and receipt of information and services as soon as practicable after the screening and assessment process identifies a need: this includes necessary medical, emotional, psychological, psychiatric, and educational evaluations and treatment.
  • Access to and participation in religious or cultural activities, taking the foster parent’s schedule and resources into consideration.
  • Adequate food, necessities, and shelter, including special dietary needs, school supplies, clothing, and hygiene products.
  • Age-appropriate information regarding proposed placement.
  • A permanency plan designed to facilitate the permanent placement or return home in a timely manner.

Public Act No. 490 of 2018 requires that the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Policy  include provisions that children in foster care be able to access the following, as age-appropriate and as mandated by the court:

  • Regular contact with all of the child’s caseworkers, attorneys, and advocates.
  • Relevant information about a change in the child’s caseworker or attorney.
  • Reasonable notice of hearings.
  • At 14 years of age or older, involvement by the child in his or her own case plan development and development of a plan for his or her future and aging out of the foster care system.
  • Help with understanding available services and how to access them.
  • A permanent plan for placement and the child’s participation in developing that plan.
  • Protection of the child’s privacy and confidentiality about his or her case.

Public Act No. 632 of 2018 requires the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare and distribute to each child placed in foster care, as age-appropriate, information describing the Children’s Assurance of Quality Foster Care Policy and the process to follow if a child in foster care had concerns regarding a violation of the Policy.