By Ann Fillmore
Executive Director, United Way of Midland County
The Midland County Health and Human Services Council recently heard a presentation from Midland County Probate and Juvenile Court Judge Dorene Allen, Elizabeth Kline, Community Mental Health (CMH) Supervisor and Brian Millikin Director of the Midland/Gladwin Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) regarding their collaborative partnership in handling child abuse and neglect in Midland County.
Child abuse and neglect crosses all socioeconomic classes and happens to seemingly ordinary people in all walks of life. The greatest myth is that the dangers to children come from strangers. In most cases, the perpetrator is someone the parent or child knows, and is often trusted by the child and family.
Complaints of child abuse/neglect are referred through the Michigan Centralized Intake line at 855-444-3911. Basic information is gathered and a screening is completed to determine if the allegations meet the definition of abuse/neglect. Those that meet the definition are assigned to the local DHHS office for investigation. DHHS requires a complete investigation of the allegations within 30 days. Depending on the rating of the investigation, a variety of DHHS services are provided to improve the family situation and they try, as much as possible, to have the child(ren) remain in the home. Collaboration with community partners and service providers is a key part of success.
A host of community services are available such as: parenting education, Community Mental Health services, DHHS Homemaker services, contracted counseling, Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency- Families First, or other home services, domestic violence services and collaboration with special education teachers/parapros/administration, where applicable.
At this point, the hope is that the services offered have been successful and a DHHS case can be closed. If the family is non-compliant or based on the severity of the allegation, DHHS may file a petition with the Court to request the Court’s jurisdiction and oversight.
Judge Allen also discussed Baby Court, a great illustration of the collaboration between the Court, DHHS and CMH which focuses on abused and neglected children 0-3 years old. 28% of the Court’s Abuse/Neglect caseload is comprised of children 0-3 years old and 65% of the parents in these cases end-up either releasing their parental rights or have them voluntarily terminated. Many of these issues are cyclical and a generational pattern is noted. The premise of Baby Court is to have the community rally around a family so that it can become intact and healthy. The key goals are to ensure that the babies are thriving and reaching developmental goals, are able to develop healthy bonds with caregivers, and to reduce and prevent the cycle of child abuse/neglect. Typically, Baby Court has much fewer placement changes for these children as a result of the intensive services.
Ann Fillmore, Executive Director of United Way of Midland County, serves as a member of the Midland County Health & Human Services Council. The HHSC promotes excellence in the delivery of health and human services through the collective efforts of 27 key community leaders with a shared vision for solving community challenges. Its membership fosters collaboration and cooperation among social service agencies, education, health care, business, the faith-based community, the courts, law enforcement and local government.