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Opinion | Lawmakers must protect children in Michigan’s child welfare system

Not-for-profit, accredited child welfare agencies are in the midst of a staffing crisis that has the potential to collapse our entire child welfare system. And this crisis — which will only hurt Michigan’s most vulnerable children — is not going away any time soon.

Judith Fischer
Judith Fischer is president of the Association of Accredited Child & Family Agencies. (Courtesy photo)

As president of the Association of Accredited Child & Family Agencies, I am calling on our elected leaders to act so we can continue providing Michigan’s children and families with the care they need.

AACFA is made up of some of the largest child welfare agencies in Michigan. Each year, we care for thousands of children who come to us from a wide variety of circumstances, from neglect and abuse to violence and the criminal justice system. We are also responsible for hundreds of adoptions and foster care placements annually.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, things have gotten worse for not-for-profit, accredited child welfare agencies, with a shortage of workers and increased costs for expenses like mileage reimbursements. Salary and benefits costs have increased too, and we have no way to supplement these costs while also needing to add case workers due to staff-to-child ratio requirements. To put it simply, market demands are very different from what we can offer, and donors are attempting to subsidize what funding we are given by the state because we are not paid the same as state-run agencies.

We’re proud of our state and applaud lawmakers for making mental health a priority, as evidenced by the expansion of mental health services in schools. But the forgotten children of our child welfare system are suffering as we are continually asked to do more with less.

We’re calling on lawmakers to do what is right and help the children and families of Michigan who need it the most. We are asking for rising foster care rates to reflect the higher costs of gas, food, electricity and more. We’re asking for increased funding so we can pay our staff competitive wages that help retain them, while creating a pipeline of quality, dedicated workers.

These measures would help provide quality programs for not-for-profit, accredited child welfare agencies, and ultimately benefit the children in Michigan’s child welfare system. The future of our child welfare system depends on it.

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