By Stateside Staff from Michigan Radio
This week, The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a news release about a federal court update concerning how well Michigan protects children in the state’s child welfare system. The State agency’s release claims Michigan has made significant progress in better protecting children. Yet, an advocacy group is countering the state’s claim, saying there’s a long way to go before the state can guarantee the safety and welfare of children in foster care.
To recap the week in political news, Ken Sikkema, senior Policy fellow with Public Sector Consultants and the former Republican state senate majority leader joined Stateside alongside Vicki Barnett, a former Mayor of Farmington Hills and a former Democratic state legislator.
The advocacy group Children’s Rights originally sued the state more than a decade ago for failing to protect Michigan’s children. The group points to a new report alleging the state failed to do background checks on relatives taking foster children into their homes, and failed to properly investigate claims of abuse and neglect in some cases.
Sikkemma says the federal judge overseeing the case has appointed an independent evaluator who should be responsible for determining how far Michigan has come in protecting children.
“There’s a lot of what I would call independent and judicial oversight over [this case],” Sikkema said. “It’s really the judge and independent monitor that’s supposed to sort out the claims and counter claims, ultimately though, to get to the point of adequately protecting children in the foster care system.”
Barnett says the allegations of failures to investigate suspicions of abuse and neglect, along with the failure to adequately run background checks on family members are serious. She says there has been definite progress, but there’s room for more.
“There are allegations the caseload [for workers] is still too high, that cases are being assigned to workers who are on extended leave, and so a lot of children are falling through the cracks,” Barnett said. “That’s just unacceptable.”
Sikkema and Barnett also discussed bills recently passed out of a house committee that would require local law enforcement authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.
“I think one of the basic questions is, why should the state have any role in this at all?” Sikkema said. “If the state wants to enact a law, it invites just a lot of questions.”
Barnett also disagrees with the premise of the bills, saying if the requirement were passed into law, it would weaken the relationships between police and their respective communities. She says people may become less likely to trust police.
“Many communities spend a lot of time working with their police officers and public safety departments to foster that kind of community policing system where people feel comfortable when they see a police officer on the street.”
Listen to the entire conversation with Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett, above.
Ken Sikkema and Vicki Barnett join Stateside every Friday to break down the week’s political news.