LANSING, Mich. — The normally serene Michigan Supreme Court chambers were filled with the babble of toddlers and happy laughs Tuesday as adoptions for Ingham and Ionia county families were approved by local judges on Michigan Adoption Day.
About 200 children were to "receive forever families" in adoption ceremonies around the state, Department of Human Services director Maura Corrigan said. Judges in 30 counties handled about 145 adoptions of one or more children, making it the nation's largest Adoption Day event, according to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Corrigan, a former state Supreme Court justice, said during a news conference before the adoption ceremony at the Michigan Hall of Justice that Michigan has about 2,900 children whose birth parents' rights have been terminated by the courts because of abuse or neglect. As of Sept. 30, 2,426 children had been adopted this calendar year, most by a relative or foster parent. State officials are looking for homes for 279 more.
During that news conference, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care Act, which will allow teenagers to voluntarily remain in foster care until they're 21. They'll be able to receive financial and other help with education, counseling, housing and medical coverage as they make the transition from living in foster care to living on their own.
"Young people in foster care need the same kind of support other 18-year-olds do as they navigate the crucial years leading up to age 21," the governor said. Having foster children fall out of a system of support once they turned 18 "was not a good answer."
Nearly 800 young adults will age out of the state's foster care system in 2011. A group of those who had been through foster care stood behind Snyder as he signed the legislation into law. Michigan had 14,284 children living in foster care and 7,264 licensed foster homes as of Sept. 30, the end of the state's fiscal year.
Anthony Ashman, a Western Michigan University student who spent time in the foster care system, said having the additional years of financial and emotional support will be critical for others like him.
"A lot of young adults don't have anyone to call when they age out" of foster care, he said.
The extended benefits will give 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds the option of living in a licensed foster family home, a child care institution or a supervised independent living arrangement where they can receive training in independent living skills and case management support. They must meet one of the following requirements: be attending high school classes or studying for an equivalent degree, work at least 80 hours a month, or be attending college or vocational classes or training programs that will lead to a job.
Michigan will receive matching federal funds to provide the extra services. The state's a leader in implementing a law putting the foster care extensions in place, Snyder said.
Also during the ceremony, Snyder awarded retired Michigan Supreme Court administrator Daniel Wright a lifetime achievement award established in his honor. Wright was instrumental a decade ago in moving all 83 Michigan counties to a statewide computerized child support enforcement system.
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