I Went Through the Michigan Foster Care System. The State Needs to Make It Easier for Kids to Find Good Homes, Not Harder.

I was in the foster care system for 12 years, including 5 years in Michigan, until I was adopted at the age of 17.  One of the reasons I was in the system so long was the shortage of families that are willing and able to care for the children who most desperately need families — those of us who are older, part of a sibling group, or have significant emotional or medical needs. 

I was placed in several different foster families that were unhealthy or otherwise inappropriate for me. Not surprisingly, they didn’t work out.  I also spent time in two group homes.  I frequently changed schools, resulting in difficulty progressing in school and maintaining healthy peer relationships.  I was separated from my birth sister, who is younger and was adopted by another family that wasn’t interested in adopting me. As a teenager, I knew my chances of ever getting a family of my own were slim. 

But I was one of the lucky ones. When I was 16, a couple in East Lansing saw my picture and history on an adoption website and felt a connection to me. They became my parents, and when I was 17, they adopted me. With their support, I’m proud to say that I graduated last Spring from Western Michigan University and am excited about my future. 

I love my parents. Still, I wonder whether I might have been spared the years of instability and loss had there been more families out there to care for kids in the foster care system. 

It was my experience in foster care and the difficulties faced by so many of us that led me to become an advocate for foster youth. I have been on foster youth advisory boards for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and volunteer as an advocate with FosterClub, an organization that provides support for foster youth across the country.

Doing this work, I get to meet and know many current and former foster youth. Many of them, unlike me, have aged out of the foster care system without ever becoming part of a family.  These young people often have to face the challenges of getting through high school or getting into college, landing a job, and finding and paying for a place to live without the guidance of parents.

Given my experience and the experience of my peers and current foster youth, I was horrified to learn that Michigan now permits state-contracted child placement agencies to turn away loving prospective foster and adoptive parents based solely on religious objections to certain kinds of families, specifically, same-sex parent families. It makes no sense to enact policies that make it even more difficult for kids to find the loving and nurturing homes they need. It’s cruel. Kids shouldn’t be deprived of families because some agencies have a religious test for who is qualified to be a parent.

My mom and dad are wonderful people who took in an older teen, even after knowing everything I'd been through. It’s unconscionable that others like them who want to help kids are being turned away simply because they don’t meet an agency’s religious standards. There are so many bright, wonderful youth out there in Michigan who need families just like I did. I know many would love to have two moms or two dads to call their own. I love my family, and I want others to have the same joy of finding a family as I did.

Michigan needs to ensure that children in the foster care system have access to any family that has the ability and willingness to love and care for a child in need.  I’m heartened to see the ACLU standing up to challenge Michigan’s discriminatory foster care system in court because allowing religious-based disqualifications of good families must end.

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Andrew

I went through the same thing and the same state. I was7 when i was adopted by a wonderful family and when I was12 I was given back to the state in till I was16 and the state kicked me out witch was fine by me. It does suck being in Michigan care.

Anonymous

Good article- you are wonderful.

Anonymous

I'm glad that you found a permanent home and wish every child could. However, forcing placement agencies to choose between their religious beliefs and regulations could end with their being less foster care agencies and that would mean fewer placements not more. I looked into being a foster parent before becoming disabled and there were many Christian children waiting for foster homes (I'm not Christian so may have had some similar religious based issues with not only the placement agency but also with the children themselves which is another factor to consider). I would have picked a non-religious agency because an extremely religious child may not be comfortable in my house even though I'm perfectly willing to accommodate other's religious beliefs and, as you probably know, the child's opinion does matter when it comes to whether the placement will be successful or not. At any rate, the Dumont's were referred to other agencies so its not like they were locked out. They weren't disqualified from adopting - just from using a Catholic agency. Did they end up adopting through another agency or was this just a ploy so that they could sue?

Anonymous

The system needs reform to where more help is given to the bio family. I know, I know there will be comments about how awful they are and sometimes that's true, but not always. Often CPS treats the bio parents badly and they fall into despair and hopelessness. If there were more programs to lift them up and help them, there would be fewer kids in foster care and fewer government made 'orphans'.

The current federal funding for foster care (Title IV-E) pays for foster care and adoption at appx 8 BILLION a year, but funding for family services is a measly 600 Million. The feds ALMOST changed this last session with the family first act but it was halted by a senator from NC who stopped the bill, due to influence from the Baptist Children's home in his state, that received 4 grand a month from the feds per child.

Anonymous

We adopted four abused and neglected children each taking a three year process as the bio parents too their legal and financial rights to drag it out. They utilized every program available and every penny possible but rarely saw the children. There are 17 half siblings from the fathers with other mothers whose processes were similar. I realize each case can be different but I know of no bio parents that we’re not offered more than any foster/adoptive parent in support and finances but chose to do minimal if nothing (yet use the programs and finances) to regain their children. That has been our experience over 19 years and mine professionally as an advocate of the court short of a few scattered bio moms.

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Anonymous

So happy you found your forever family! My husband and I have been trying to adopt a child from foster care for over a year now. We have had nothing but road blocks of them telling us because we don't have enough trauma training we can not adopt the child. We have taken all training and read all books that have been given to us and available to take. We truly believe this has become an issue of us being a multicultural family living in a rural farming community.
We have been turned down on about 18 children. I raised my son alone for 18 years and we had our fair share of trauma. But, I would never attempt to compare it to what a child in foster care has endured. My husband and I want to give a child a second chance at a new beginning, but we are at the hands of these workers reading our home study and never meeting us. Bless you for all that you are continuing to do.

Anonymous

I am so happy that your story worked out in the end. There are other serious program reforms that need to occur. MDHHS should support foster families, provide guidance and resources for PTSD and other traumas, support groups should be available in every county. I have been subject to 3 special investigations for reporting behavioral issues; asking for assistance with educational support and other basic needs, and for failing to report a demographics change. The department changes workers without notification, sets meetings (FTM) without regard to foster parent responsibilities, and fail to do their job.
Similar to your case, they are now working on separating the siblings and make decisions that are not appropriate for the children. For example, they allow the mother with terminated rights to continue contact with the children. We have asked more than 8 MDHHS staff to assist with reducing or stopping this contact and there have been no efforts made. We are going on 8 months with that failure.
Never ask MDHHS for assistance with handling truancy or poor grades is my advice to anyone reading this. They will not assist and will begin another special investigation citing the parent's failure to provide appropriate supervision.
While I would love to say I support foster care and want only the best for the children in the system..... I advise anyone considering foster care to run. Run away from Michigan Foster Care system as far and as fast as you can. You will not be supported and in fact, will be persecuted.

Anonymous

So happy for you

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