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:

  • Of the 440 new caseworkers hired during the most recent monitoring period of January to June of 2013, nearly all had a bachelor’s degree in social work or a related human services field and all new workers 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 significantly improved caseloads for most child welfare staff across Michigan. DHS met five of the seven MSA caseload standard obligations in July 2013, including those for Child Protective Services (CPS) investigators, CPS ongoing staff, licensing staff, foster care staff and child welfare supervisors.
  • In the initial stages of this reform effort, DHS had a poor support system available for adoptive children and families. In April 2012, DHS granted eight contracts to private adoption agencies throughout the state for the creation of post-adoption resource centers which offer services and support to children and youth adopted from Michigan’s foster care system.  These contracts have been expanded, and DHS reported that 922 adoptive families throughout Michigan received services from the post-adoption resource centers during 2013.

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

  • At the end of June 2013, there were more than 4,600 children in custody placed by DHS with their relatives in 2,733 homes. The majority of relative homes (63%) were not licensed at the end of the most recent monitoring period.
  • DHS continues to place hundreds of children, including very young children, in shelters, and for longer than the limits in the modified settlement agreement.
  • DHS did not meet the worker-child and worker-parent visitation commitments set forth in the modified settlement agreement, nor the parent-child visitation standards for children on a track toward reunification.
  • Again in 2013, the monitoring team often did not find documentation that concerns identified by the Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing with certain foster homes and private agencies were followed up on and/or rectified.

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.