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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer Proposes Hiring Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Consultant to Improve Michigan's Struggling Foster Care System

The state's Department of Health and Human Services was sued for negligence in 2006

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer submitted a proposed contract for a Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Consultant who will work with the state’s Children’s Services Agency.

The state’s child welfare system has been under court supervision for over 15 years after it was sued for negligence and required to make significant improvements.

According to the proposal, the consultant will “assist with awareness, education and opportunities within Business Service Center 5 as an additional support for the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Unit.”

The consultant must have at least five years of experience “providing services to the LGBTQIA+ population” and “demonstrate their cultural competence and experience working with people who are marginalized, including individuals within the LGBTQIA+ population, and who obtain services from the child welfare system.”

“The goal of this Contract is to create increased sensitivity on issues relating to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) population within Children’s services,” per the state’s proposal.

The contractor will develop and launch training, informational sessions, and webinars for Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees as well as the department’s 81 contracted agencies.

On behalf of CSA, the consultant will provide “support to LGBTQIA+ youth and families in the form of resources, access to services, trainings, transportation and education” as well as “identify/locate foster homes in contiguous counties… for LGBTQI+ youth in accordance with MDHHS policy as a collaborative effort with the Regional Placement Unit (RPU) and Private Agency Foster Care (PAFC) as needed.”

Michigan will also task the LGBTQIA+ consultant with finding community services for transgender youth in the state’s five largest counties — Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent and Genesee — as well as services for Native American Two Spirit youth.

Interested bidders must submit their proposals by Oct. 10.

In January, two independent court monitors submitted a report on the state’s foster care system to Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan as part of Dwayne B. v. Whitmer. The case was filed by the advocacy nonprofit Children’s Rights on behalf of any children who are currently or will, in the future, be in the custody of MDHHS and is named for one of six plaintiffs. Dwayne entered foster care as a toddler in 2001 and had been in 15 different foster placements by 2006. The organization argued he suffered emotional harm and was overmedicated with physiatric drugs on multiple occasions.

In 2008, Edmunds approved a settlement reached between the parties which included the Modified Implementation, Sustainability and Exit Plan – a set of requirements and benchmarks that the Department must meet to exit court supervision. The MISEP requires the state to compile a system to track comprehensive data regarding child welfare in order to improve DHHS’ work with “vulnerable children.”

“It was really depressing to read how little the state has accomplished,” said Edmunds said after receiving the 2022 report. “If anything, we’ve slipped backwards.”

According to The Detroit News, “monitors found state officials had failed to thoroughly review almost 25%” of the 130 randomly selected investigations they reviewed.

“Of those 32 cases that were not thoroughly reviewed, the monitors determined 19 should have resulted in licensing violations,” the outlet wrote.

The improperly handled cases included a report that “multiple staff members of a child-caring institution were aware of a staff member’s inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old resident” but did nothing until the minor reported the abuse.

In another case, an 11-year-old girl with asthma was restrained on multiple occasions while living in a group home and a “spit bag” was placed over her head.

Michigan DHHS also failed to meet a number of other predetermined benchmarks, including keeping sibling groups who enter foster care together 90% of the time and having a department official preemptively visit a relative who is not a licensed foster parent where a child will be placed to determine if the home is safe. Michigan ultimately met just 8 of 32 required standards,

Edmunds called the results of the report “devastating.”

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