LANSING, Mich. (September 20, 2023) – Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced Senate Bill 498 to ensure that Michigan’s Foster Care Review Boards (FCRB) will work effectively with tribal governments to serve Native American children. The bill, cosponsored by members from both parties, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Housing and Human Services, which Sen. Irwin chairs. 

“This bill is another step in the continuing work to repair the damage that has been done to Native American children and tribes under the guise of child welfare,” Sen. Irwin said. “I am glad to see the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services working actively with tribal governments to change the law so that we can keep children connected to their communities and cultures.” 

Michigan’s Foster Care Review Board Program is a system of local, volunteer-staffed boards administered by the State Court Administrative Office. Boards meet once a month to review both randomly selected and requested cases of children currently in the state foster care system to provide a third-party perspective regarding the child’s safety and care, as well as the appropriateness and timeliness of the court-approved permanency plan. The boards forward their written findings and related recommendations to the applicable court, the local Department of Health and Human Services and contract agencies and other parties directly involved in the case.

Unfortunately, some of the local boards have a history of inconsistent treatment of tribal governments involved in cases they are reviewing. There have been issues with boards failing to notify tribal governments of cases involving tribal children, failing to hear testimony from tribal governments and even refusing to allow tribal representatives to attend hearings.  

Senate Bill 498, which has the support of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the United Tribes, would help align the FCRB statute with the federal Indian Child Welfare Act and the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act. The legislation would ensure tribal governments receive the required notifications and codify their role in the FCRB process so that Native American children can remain connected to their communities and cultures. 

Sen. Irwin is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. He also sponsored Senate Bill 138 to ensure children placed with permanent guardians by tribal courts have the same access to guardianship assistance funds as children placed by state courts. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed SB 138 into law this summer.