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Updated 10:00 AM November 7, 2005




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  Fauri Memorial Lecture in Child Welfare
Professionals could learn a lot from kids

Michigan child welfare professionals—despite their diplomas in law, social work or business—don't always know what's best for neglected and abused kids.
Michigan Department of Human Services Director Marianne Udow tells an audience at the School of Social Work that child welfare professionals could improve their efforts by listening to the youth they serve. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

In fact, the most powerful but often unheard voices are the youths who don't want to feel disconnected by being removed from the support structure in their homes, said Marianne Udow, director of the Michigan Department of Human Services (MDHS).

Udow delivered the 2005 Fedele F. and Iris M. Fauri Memorial Lecture in Child Welfare Nov. 1 at the School of Social Work. She addressed the current status of child welfare in Michigan, the issues affecting young people and programs designed to assist children and parents.

"Professionals don't always know more than (youths)," she said. "Too often, we don't listen to them."

Udow said 2 percent of Michigan's children—about 47,000 (19,000 in foster care, 28,000 in the judicial system)—are in the child welfare system.

"That is simply too many," said Udow, who has a master's degree in health services administration from the School of Public Health. "The system doesn't do a good job of protecting and nurturing our children."

Udow said children ages 5 and younger face a critical time for development, and any abuse during that time can affect them throughout life.

While all children in the welfare system can benefit from state-funded programs to help them and their families, more efforts should be invested in young children, she said.

One example of an intervention that is helping is the Nurse Home Visitation Program, in which nurses visit first-time mothers under age 19 for two years to offer tips on health, parenting and self-improvement. This investment between the nurses and mothers could reduce abuse or neglect of the child, Udow said.

"We don't have to solve every problem, but invest in models that work," she said.

MDHS directs the operations of public assistance and service programs through a network of local offices. MDHS programs include temporary cash assistance, food assistance, child care, child support enforcement, medical assistance, adoption and foster care services, domestic violence services, juvenile justice services, and adult and children's protective services.

The Fauri Lecture is presented annually in recognition of the former U-M vice president for state relations and dean of social work and his wife. Much of the current social welfare legislation at both the state and federal levels is the product of his efforts, first as director of the Michigan Department of Social Services, and then through his years in Washington, D.C., where he held numerous leadership positions.

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