The Children’s Foster Care Services Program in Michigan provides placement and supervision of children who are temporary or permanent court or state wards – children who cannot remain at home because their family is unable to provide minimal care and supervision or children whose parents’ parental rights have been terminated. Their goal is family reunification.
Foster Care becomes involved when there is a report of possible abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare. If there is a report, Children’s Protective Services investigates to determine if it is safe for the child to remain in the home. If it is assessed that the child is unsafe, the Department of Human Service could petition the family court to intervene and possibly issue an order to remove the child from the home so that they may be placed in Foster Care.
Since the criminal child abuse and neglect law and the Child Protection Act define “child” as a person who is under the age of 18, Foster Care can become involved as to a person under the age of 18, who is harmed/neglected or threatened to be harmed/neglected, physically or mentally. “Neglect” is harm to a child’s health or welfare by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare which occurs through negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. The Child Protection Law provides for the protection of all children who are abused or neglected by requiring the reporting of child abuse and neglect by certain persons, and permitting the reporting of child abuse and neglect by all persons. It also also allows for authorization of limited detainment in protective custody and medical examinations.
It is not against the law for a 17-year-old to leave home. Child Protective Services can become involved if a 17-year-old leaves home and has no criminal record, but this would only happen if the child was reported missing or a member of the community reported possible abuse, neglect or abandonment of a child by the parent or legal guardian. If the 17-year-old leaves home, tells the parents where they are, and is in a safe environment, then Child Protective Services is unlikely to undertake more than an inquiry. If it appeared that the child was in a dangerous or unfit environment, then they could ask for an order of the court that the child be removed from the home and placed with other family, or in a suitable Foster Care home.
17-year-olds who move out responsibly, by staying in school and/or employed, should be able to continue their independence. Their intentions and choices are more likely to be respected, especially since age 18 is around the corner and there is a legitimate goal to preserve valuable court and other state resources. Those who break the law by skipping school, staying out past curfew, or doing drugs, are going to run up against some backlash.
17-year-olds who are already in the Foster Care system are wards of the State. The State is responsible for them as is any parent of a child. They are required by law to have a Transition Plan for the teen’s transition to independence. A 17-year-old who leaves their foster care home can respond to authorities by stating that they are enforcing their Michigan right to leave home with they are 17. See ‘17-year-old-runaways’. They should also state (if true) that as their caseworker has not provided the required Transition Plan (see Working with Teens to Provide a Transitional Plan), or discussed a future transition plan, they were forced to implement their own, and they are doing so responsibly. Another alternative, and perhaps the better one, is to discuss, before leaving home, with the caseworker the desire to transition to independence by having more independence and that means living in an environment in which they have more freedom to exercise their decision-making skills. Since the foster care worker is required by law to work with the teen to develop a transition plan, they should take the teen seriously.