LANSING — In an effort to improve Michigan’s foster care system, the Michigan House of Representatives this week passed reforms that bolster the rights of relatives who want to care for children entering foster care, give the state new tools to help locate relatives when children need to be placed in foster care, and help ensure that children are placed with foster families that have the same religious background.
|Rehab and Ahmed Amer|
The package of bills was inspired by a Dearborn couple whose children were placed with families of a different religion. Ahmed and Rehab Amer were accused of abuse; their children were taken from them and placed in foster care. Ahmed and Rehab were cleared of all accusations, but by then the cultural differences between the Amers and the children’s foster families made reunification with their children more difficult. State Representative Gino H. Polidori (D-Dearborn) has worked with the Amer family for the past two years to ensure that other families do not suffer similar hardships.
“Michigan’s current laws do not reflect the new realities of foster care, and especially the relationship between foster children and their relatives,” Polidori said. “We need to fill that gap. These reforms will ensure that the best interests of our children are upheld when they enter the foster care system, and that the move to another family is as easy as possible for our kids..”
Michigan’s foster care system relies heavily on relatives to care for foster children. According to the Department of Human Services, the state has experienced a 67 percent increase in relative care placements in the past 10 years. However, few modifications have been made to address the changing nature of the system. Many relative caretakers are ineligible for state and federal funding, and do not have access to the same types of resources as traditional foster families.
Polidori’s bill would amend Michigan’s foster care laws to provide preference for children entering the foster care system to be placed with relatives whenever possible.
State Representative Robert Dean (D-Grand Rapids) sponsored a bill that would require parents of a child entering foster care to provide a list of relatives for potential placement.
State Representative Barb Byrum (D-Onondaga) sponsored a bill in the package that would provide a preference for children to be placed with foster families who have the same religious background as the child.
The package now goes to the senate.