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MDHHS creates task force to address racial disparities in state’s child protection system

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Posted at 9:40 AM, Feb 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-16 09:40:30-05

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has created a task force to prevent and eliminate systemic racism in the state’s child protection system.

The goal is to transform the system to make family well-being and preventing abuse, neglect and trauma the top priority of the department’s Children’s Services Agency, according to a news release Tuesday.

MDHHS is partnering with MPHI, a nonprofit, public-private partnership created to establish the task force.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared racism a public health threat last year.

RELATED: Gov. Whitmer signs directive addressing racism as public health crisis and creates Black Leadership Advisory Council

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David Sanders, executive vice president of systems improvement at Casey Family Programs, and Tommy Stallworth, director of the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, will co-chair the task force.

MDHHS says overrepresentation of children of color in the child protection system requires a “fundamental system change.”

Children of color enter foster care at higher rates and stay in care longer than their white peers.

They’re also more likely to be placed in institutional facilities rather than in family homes, remain there for long periods and leave the foster care system without a family.

While 16% of children in Michigan are Black, children who are Black make up 29% of the state’s foster care population.

And while 31% of Michigan children are children of color, they make up 51% of the foster care population.

As a result of these experiences, MDHHS says, Black and Brown children and their families are at greater risk for adverse health, social and economic effects that can last a lifetime.

“As well-intentioned as we are, our current system perpetuates injustices and keeps us from meeting our core values,” said JooYeun Chang, executive director of MDHHS’s Children’s Services Agency. “This is primarily driven by systemic issues and we must therefore acknowledge and then address systemic racism and bias wherever it exists.”

The task force is expected to:

  • Be responsible for reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of the strategies identified by the Children’s Services Agency, assessing whether the agency is implementing the identified strategies and seeking necessary community support – including legislative support – to implement effective strategies.
  • Oversee the planning, implementation and evaluation of this new approach. The goal is to fully implement a new approach that improves safety and equity and reduces unnecessary and potentially harmful investigations of Black families.
  • Provide policy and practice recommendations to improve equity in group care of children who are removed from their homes.