Class Actions

Michigan

MI - Dwayne B. v. Snyder

Dwayne B., one of six named plaintiffs at the time the complaint was filed, was 7 years old at filing and had been moved between 15 different foster care placements since entering the legal custody of DHS in 2001 as a toddler. As a result of the emotional harm caused by these many moves and DHS’s failure to provide him with necessary services, Dwayne’s behavior severely deteriorated to the point that he hit himself and others, harmed animals, set fires and destroyed property. Dwayne has also been placed on a number of psychiatric medications and has been taken to the hospital on several occasions due to overmedication. After two years in a residential treatment facility and counseling to address his psychological injuries, Dwayne moved into a foster home placement in August 2009. Following nearly two years in that home, Dwayne was adopted by his foster mother in the spring of 2011.

Carmela B., 19, another named plaintiff, aged out of foster care in 2010 after languishing in state custody for 17 years. While in state care, she had been physically and sexually abused and moved through at least 13 different placements, a number of them dangerous and clearly inappropriate. As a result of the DHS failure to provide Carmela with appropriate treatment and case-planning services, she was denied the opportunity to live in a permanent and loving home and had suffered severe emotional and physical harm. Carmela aged out of DHS foster care in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan
STATUS: Monitoring
FILED: August 8, 2006
SETTLEMENT REACHED: July 3, 2008

Children’s Rights, along with co-counsel Ned Leibensperger, Kevin Bolan and McDermott Will & Emery LLC, filed this case against the Governor of the state of Michigan and the Director of the Department of Human Services (DHS) on behalf of all children who are now or will be in the foster care custody of DHS. The Complaint alleged certain unlawful policies and practices of the defendants, including the maltreatment or neglect of children while in state foster care custody, a lack of basic medical and mental health services for children in foster care, excessive lengths of stay in state custody, and frequent moves among multiple placements.  The parties settled the case in 2008 and the court approved the Modified Settlement Agreement and Consent Order (MSA) in 2011.  Reform implementation and ongoing monitoring efforts by Children’s Rights and the court-appointed monitor have succeeded in bringing about substantial reforms in Michigan:

  • All of the 143 new caseworkers hired during the most recent monitoring period of July to December 2013 had a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related human services field. Moreover, nearly all of the 135 new workers scheduled for training in the period completed pre-service training within 16 weeks of their hire date.
  • DHS leadership’s attention to hiring improvement, case allocation and training has led to improved caseloads for most child welfare staff across Michigan. DHS reported meeting four of the seven caseload targets, including those for Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators, CPS ongoing staff, licensing staff, and child welfare supervisors.
  • By the end of the most recent monitoring period, DHS finalized 2,361 adoptions, exceeding the SFY2013 target by 320 adoptions.
  • DHS reported exceeding the final standards agreed upon by the parties in the areas of timeliness of adoptions, permanency for children and youth in foster care for long periods of time, and placement stability.

However, the most recent Monitoring Report released in September 2014 by Public Catalyst, the court-appointed monitor, flags a number of outstanding areas of inadequate performance:

  • Data DHS provided to the monitoring team shows that the percentage of relatives with a waiver of licensure rose dramatically, while the reasons for granting many of those waivers were inconsistent with the exceptional circumstances contemplated by the MSA. Underscoring this concern, there is a disproportionate number of children in unlicensed relative homes who suffer abuse/neglect while in these placements.
  • DHS’ performance on the two federal safety measures, absence of repeat maltreatment and absence of abuse/neglect in care, is still well below standards. To meet its commitments, DHS would have needed to keep another 215 children safe from repeat maltreatment and another 81 children in DHS’ care free from abuse or neglect during FFY2013.
  • Thirteen youth in the child welfare custody of DHS were detained without any underlying charge, more than double the number (six) in the previous Monitoring Report. DHS reported that its staff objected on the record to the confinement in only one instance.
  • For the fifth consecutive period, DHS failed to limit the use of temporary and emergency placements such as shelters. DHS continues to place hundreds of children, including very young children, in shelters, for long periods of time.
  • For the fourth consecutive period, DHS did not meet the worker-child and worker-parent visitation commitments set forth in the Modified Settlement Agreement, nor the commitment to assure two face-to-face contacts between parents and their children in any month during the monitoring period.

The defendants will exit monitoring once they have met all the performance requirements of the settlement agreement and held that performance for 18 months.  Until that time, Children’s Rights will continue to monitor and analyze performance data, contact key stakeholders, meet with agency officials and the monitor, and attend status conferences before the Court, as we work to hold Michigan accountable to its promise to improve the child welfare system.