“I don’t care how poor a man is; if he has family, he’s rich.” – Dan Wilcox and Thad Mumford, “Identity Crisis,” M*A*S*H
Family should be forever. As the first institution a child is a member of, it ought to be a reliable, supportive example of how to live in community and interact with others. Sadly, in a society plagued by numerous evils, many do not get this experience, but rather end up in the foster care system, waiting for adoption by a true “forever family.” There is no question that each child deserves such a home: the question is how this service is best provided.
It is not hard to find heartwarming stories of the struggles and triumphs of building new relationships through adoption. Thankfully, through many solid policies enacted over the years, happy endings are plentiful in the state of Michigan.
One of the strengths of the State’s foster care system is the innovative partnership between public and private agencies responsible for adoption planning that has led to high placement rates, both in foster families and “forever” homes. For example, though the state is still responsible for the initial removal of children in troubled situations, in 2002 the Family Independence Agency sent over half of its cases to private agencies to find worthy homes for them. This has decreased the costs involved and has also added more caseworkers so that even with growing numbers of placements they are spread less thinly. Apart from their work with the state, private agencies have the added benefit of being able to aid in some types of adoption that the state cannot, such as direct placements between the birth parents and the adopting family or international adoptions.
Reforms made in Michigan since the 1980s have allowed more freedom in the system to benefit children, such as making it so that parental rights can be severed more quickly in cases of egregious abuse, and some licensing requirements can be waved so siblings can be placed together. Allowing for single parents and young adults (over 18) to be home-studied (have their accommodations assessed for foster care suitability) and trained so they might be able to provide homes for children in the foster care system also gives a child their best chance at finding a suitable placement. Altogether, the Michigan foster care system has proven itself a commendable model of public/private partnership.
Even with these advances, the system’s efficiency with time and resources can still be improved. One issue is setting a deadline for parents to consent to adoption so the process moves more quickly (with less uncertainty about the birth parents changing their minds.) Removing remaining regulatory barriers which make the adoption process more costly is another. The state budget could also benefit from giving more rein to the private groups that defray the costs of adoption voluntarily, as cutting the state adoption subsidies is a move which could save the state around $220 million. This especially makes sense for the $14.5 million spent on adoption support groups, as most can be found online and often prefer to be discreet and avoid state attention.
Understanding the importance of the foster care system, it may seem counterintuitive and even heartless to cut state funding for such needs. This issue of funds allocated to the childcare system is an example of the often painful interaction between fact and emotion. There is no question as to the worthiness of the foster care and adoption system to receive support, or the vitality of its function in society; it is instead a question of which entity will run it the best, be it the individuals, nonprofits and religious organizations which work to help people in need or the government system. For the time being, working in harmony seems to be suiting the children, but on the behalf of those looking for a “forever family,” the eye of the voter should always be on improvement.