The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has created a task force aimed at addressing, eliminating and preventing systemic racism inside the state's child protection system.
The Child Welfare Improvement Task Force is a partnership between MDHHS and MPHI, a Michigan-based non-profit public health institute. MDHHS said in a press release it plans to transform the system and make family well-being and preventing abuse, neglect and trauma the top priority of the department’s Children’s Services Agency.
"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. This task force provides an opportunity to set a path for the future where racial and ethnic equity and justice is assured. This will transform our child protection system into a family well-being system that prevents harm to children by supporting their families and communities before abuse or neglect occurs.”
The task force's goal is to create a new approach within the system that improves safety and equity, reducing unnecessary and potentially harmful investigations of Black families. Its duties will include reviewing and overseeing strategies identified by the Children’s Services Agency, as well as seeking necessary community and legislative support to implement effective strategies. It will also provide policy recommendations to elevate equity in group care of children who have been removed from their homes.
Dr. David Sanders, executive vice president of systems of improvement at Casey Family Programs and Tommy Stallworth, director of the Michigan Coronavirus Taskforce on Racial Disparities will lead the task force as co-chairs. MPHI will convene the task force, led by Dr. Paul Elam, chief strategic officer.
“We recognize that deep systemic racial biases exist in this country and that the child welfare and juvenile justice systems have an important role in dismantling underlying injustices and setting a path for a future where racial and ethnic equity and justice is assured,” Sanders said.
MDHHS said the organization, along with Governor Whitmer, believe that systemic racism is a public helath threat, adding that overrepresentation of children of color in the child protection system calls for fundemental change.
According to MDHHS, children of color enter foster care at higher rates and stay in care longer than their white peers. They are 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. While 31% of children in Michigan are children of color, they make up 51% of the foster care population. As a result of these experiences, Black and Brown children and their families are at greater risk for adverse health, social, and economic effects that can last a lifetime.