Maintaining cultural ties and family stability for American Indian Children

American Indian children in Michigan are the most likely to be removed from their homes due to abuse and/or neglect: 1.5 times the rate of white children and the highest of all children of color in the state, according to the Michigan Race Equity Coalition. They are also more likely to age out of the foster care system. It is disturbing, however, that the rate of investigation for abuse and/or neglect is lower compared with white children.

Removing American Indian children from their homes at higher rates is cause for alarm. Research indicates that placement in the foster care system can lead to an increased risk of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, substance abuse, and more. Although American Indian children in Michigan fare better than their peers in other states, the disparities in the child welfare system persist, creating instability for American Indian children and their families and jeopardizing their cultural ties.

Photo from Livingston Community News. Native American Veterans of Southeastern Michigan event.

As background, Michigan is one of the top 10 states with the largest American Indian populations in the country. The state is home to 130,000 American Indians, including 14,000 children. We have 12 federally recognized tribes and the vast majority of American Indians in the state do not live on a reservation. In 2013, the Department of Human Services supervised 240 Indian child welfare cases; a number that tribal representatives believe to be understated.

The Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, was passed by Congress in 1978 to protect the best interest of American Indian children and to promote stability and security for tribes and families. The most recent annual progress report found that to be in better compliance with ICWA, DHS needed improvements in four areas:

  • Notification to Indian parents and tribes of state proceedings involving Indian children and their right to intervene.
  • Placement preferences of Indian children in foster care, pre-adoptive, and adoptive homes.
  • Active efforts to prevent the breakup of the Indian family when parties seek to place a child in foster care or for adoption.
  • Tribal right to intervene in state proceedings or transfer proceedings to the jurisdiction of the tribe.

To strengthen practices used in American Indian child welfare cases, the Michigan Legislature enacted the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act in 2012. However, embedding ICWA in state law is not enough. Training in the law and cultural competency for all workers at every point in the system—caseworkers, court employees, and others—is critical. Additionally, there needs to be active recruitment of Indian foster care and adoptive homes. Also important to measure compliance and improvements, along with having the ability to identify areas of inadequacy in the system, is data collection.

Finally, as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month, appreciating cultural differences and continuing to build and develop relationships with Michigan’s tribes and their leaders will truly enhance outcomes for American Indian children and their families.

– Alicia Guevara Warren

Children thrive when parents succeed

Roughly half of Michigan’s young children ages 0-8 live in low-income families where meeting basic needs is a daily challenge.

Living in a financially stressed family during childhood has a long-term impact on education and employment. A child who spends the critical early years in poverty is less likely to graduate from high school and remain employed as an adult. To be more effective in assisting these families, public and private programs need to address the needs of both parents and children.

In the majority of Michigan’s low-income families with young children no parent has a year-round full-time job (56%) nor a credential beyond a high school diploma (79%) severely limiting their opportunities to secure well-paid job, according to the latest policy report, Creating Opportunity for Families: A Two-Generation Approach, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Getting access to higher education as a nontraditional student has become much more difficult at a time the state needs a more educated workforce. Over the past decade Michigan policymakers have eliminated all public university and community college grants for older students. Most (85%) parents of young children in Michigan families with income below 200% of the poverty level (roughly $47,000 for a family of four) are over age 25.

Not only does the state not offer financial support to help with college costs for older adults, the state’s woefully inadequate child care subsidy fails to meet the needs of low-wage workers and students. It offers payments substantially below the market rate and only on an hourly basis — severely limiting child care options for families in need of care. Furthermore, eligibility for the subsidy ends when parental income rises only marginally above the poverty level where absorbing the cost of care, which averages over $500 a month, would not be feasible, thus disrupting the stability of care.

One of every eight parents in the state’s low-income families with young children reported that problems with child care resulted in changing, quitting or not taking a job.

Employer practices impose additional stress on working parents who struggle to meet their responsibilities as parents. Parents in part-time, low-wage employment typically lack benefits, as well as flexible and predictable schedules. The constant juggle of changing work schedules and family responsibilities exacts an emotional as well as a physical toll.

Unfortunately programs targeted to assist low-income families rarely address the needs of both parents and children in the family. For example, job training programs do not focus on the quality or accessibility of child care. This latest Casey report makes several recommendations on strategies to strengthen the whole family, including:

  • Providing parents with multiple pathways to family-supporting jobs and financial stability through access to employment and training programs, and state and federal assistance such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Structuring public systems to respond to the realities of today’s families through interagency collaboration and streamlined application systems.
  • Using existing neighborhood programs and platforms to build evidence for practical pathways out of poverty.

In order for children to thrive, their parents must have access to the tools and supports they need to be successful as parents, as well as workers in an economy that requires postsecondary training or education for a job with a family-supporting wage. We cannot afford to delay addressing these issues. The future of over half a million of the state’s young children is at stake.

– Jane Zehnder-Merrell

High-quality, affordable child care elusive

Although Michigan has started to address its long-neglected child care system, the state has a long way to go to make high-quality child care affordable and easily accessible, especially for low- and moderate-income working parents.

That is the conclusion of a new report on child care assistance policies. (more…)

Oh Michigan!

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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‘O’ stands for October — and it also stands for Opportunity.

With just a few short weeks before the Nov. 4 election, now is your best chance as a concerned Michigan citizen to make a difference. (more…)

Healthcare coverage on the upswing

There is some good news out today in terms of health insurance.

The share of uninsured people in Michigan fell from 11.4% in 2012 to 11% in 2012, according to today’s Census Bureau release, with major additional improvements expected ahead due to the Affordable Care Act.

Still, more than 1 million in Michigan were without health insurance in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. That number is expected to decline dramatically as the Healthy Michigan Plan (Michigan’s Medicaid expansion), Marketplace enrollment and other provisions in the Affordable Care Act get counted in the numbers that will be released next fall. (more…)

Flood waters: a taxing problem

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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My family and I were unfortunate enough to experience the recent flooding in Southeast Michigan. Despite the fact that we lost appliances, some precious photos and an assortment of stuff we had accumulated over the past 37 years, we will be OK. We had insurance and were able to get a company to clean and sanitize our basement very quickly. And we will not need to go into our retirement funds to make our losses whole. (more…)

F for no effort: Michigan fails working families

Workplace policies have been on the minds of many over the past two years, with minimum wage and right-to-work rising to the top of debate in Michigan.

Yet, two important labor issues have not received nearly as much thought, despite their relevance to a wide number of Michiganians: paid sick days, and family and medical leave.

A new report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, could bring this issue the attention it requires. According to the report, Michigan is one of 17 states to score an F in family-friendly workplace laws for new parents, and it is the only Great Lakes state to receive this grade. Other states in the failing grade category include Alabama and Mississippi. (more…)

A stronger Michigan economy is within reach

Yes we can grow Michigan’s economy, create good jobs and expand opportunities for all Michiganians with the right public policy decisions. A new report by Erica Williams at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities outlines how policymakers can make that happen.

Williams explains that states need to invest adequately in education, healthcare, transportation and workforce development. And in order to do that, they need to make decisions about how to raise and spend revenues with an eye toward the future. (more…)

Vets lose benefits as we celebrate Fourth of July

Just as we head into one of our most patriotic celebrations of the year next week (the Fourth of July), a new estimate out shows that 285,000 unemployed veterans will lose jobless benefits by the end of June, including thousands of out-of-work vets in Michigan.

Extended benefits known as Emergency Unemployment Compensation expired Dec. 28. Congress’ failure to extend the benefits means that 1.3 million workers were cut off from unemployment benefits nationwide at the end of last year, with an additional 1.6 million exhausting their regular state benefits in the first six months of this year. Included in those numbers are nearly 300,000 jobless vets, Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates. (more…)

Maternal and infant risks in Michigan’s legacy cities

Roughly one of every four children in the state lives in one of Michigan’s legacy cities located across the southern half of the state’s Lower Peninsula. These legacy cities, once economic and social powerhouses, are now, in many cases, struggling with population loss and high unemployment.

Perhaps, not so surprising, risks to maternal and infant well-being are generally worse within these cities than the out-county areas in the counties where they are located.

The latest analysis of Right Start in Michigan, an annual report from Kids Count in Michigan, examines eight indicators to assess maternal and infant risks across the 15 so-called legacy cities. Only Ann Arbor, which has actually thrived in the new post-industrial economy, shows lower risk on almost all indicators than the out-county. (more…)

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