Michigan launches new task force that targets racial disparities in state's foster care

Michigan is adding to its list of task forces combating racial disparities in the state by launching one that targets inequalities in the state's child protection system.

Acknowledging an unequal distribution in the makeup of race among children in Michigan's foster care system, the state has launched the Child Welfare Improvement Task Force, which will be housed under the health department.

The task force is a response to the "overrepresentation of children of color in the child protection system" which reflects a need for "fundamental system change."

According to a press release issued by MDHHS, Black children make up 29% of the state's foster care population, despite being only 16% of the state's total population. The disparity is evident among children of other minority races as well.

"The over-representation of children of color in foster care in Michigan is unacceptable and demands a fundamental change in our system," said Tommy Stallworth, who has been assigned the task force and currently leads the state's coronavirus disparities task force.

Children of color also tend to stick around longer in the system and are more likely to be placed in institutional facilities instead of family homes. 

The challenges that kids from minority communities face get magnified into larger systemic barriers. 

RELATED: Michigan's COVID-19 racial disparities gap is closing, according to recent data

"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."

A press release from the state says the task force is an "opportunity" to address racial and ethnic equity in the state. It will accomplish this by:

  • Reviewing the effectiveness of strategies that can reduce the racial disparity in the foster home system. It will seek necessary community and legislative support
  • Oversee the rollout of effective strategies that reduce disparities and potentially harmful investigations of Black families
  • Provide policy and practice recommendations that will improve equity in group care settings that house children who are removed from their home

In addition to Stallworth, the task force will be chaired by David Sanders, who is the executive vice president of systems improvement at Case Family Programs. The Michigan Public Health Institute will convene the task force, which will be led by Dr. Paul Elam.