Children Still Being Harmed in Michigan Foster Care, Report Shows

New Progress Report by Federal Monitors Reveals DHS’ Non-Compliance with Court-Ordered Reform

(New York, NY) — Michigan is five years into a court-ordered reform of its foster care system, but the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is still struggling in its most crucial mission — to protect kids from abuse and neglect, according to a report released today by federal monitors.

The report (PDF) — submitted to U.S. Judge Nancy Edmunds by independent monitors from Public Catalyst — covers the state agency’s performance in the second half of 2012. It is the seventh to be issued since Michigan reached a settlement with national advocacy organization Children’s Rights in 2008, and the third since the parties signed off on an updated agreement in 2011 to put the stalled reform effort back on track.

“Strides have been made is some areas, but the sober truth is that far too many kids are victims of abuse, neglect and other harms in DHS care,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “It is vital that DHSleadership redoubles its efforts to mend the holes in the state’s child welfare safety net.”

According to the report, DHS performance is lagging in the following areas, critical to safety:

* Abuse in care: 180 kids were determined to have been abused or neglected in foster care during the monitoring period.

* Licensed relative care: During the monitoring period, about half of foster children in relative care, or 2,248 of 4,505 kids, were in homes that were not licensed and did not have a proper waiver. The monitor’s review found kids placed in homes without beds or cribs, one child sleeping in a hallway, another “sleeping in a basement with a pool of water with frogs living in it”, and another in a home where “a relative agreed to DHS’ guidance to allow a child to sleep in a dresser drawer.”

* Repeat maltreatment: In FY 2012, 1,581 kids were abused or neglected again within 6 months of a previous substantiated incident, up from 1,374 in FY 2010.

* Timely investigations: During the monitoring period, DHS failed to launch investigations on time for 23 percent of abuse and neglect allegations that required an immediate response.

* Visitation: DHS did not ensure caseworkers frequently visited with children. In December 2012, just 66 percent of kids were visited monthly, and only 57 percent of kids were visited twice in their first month in foster care.

The monitors also reported on three major building blocks the state is in the process of putting in place: a new data management system; performance based contracting to ensure all contracted agencies comply with DHS standards; and a case practice model that encourages family engagement. These structural improvements are integral to the overall reform.

“Plenty of work remains to be done before the state has fulfilled its commitment to kids. Importantly, the consent decree not only calls for improvements to be made, it also requires those improvements to be sustained,” said Bartosz. “It is crucial for everyone to stay the course, however long that takes.”

Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm in August 2006, with Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Michigan-based law firm Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton.

For more information about Children’s Rights’ ongoing campaign to reform the Michigan child welfare system, including the full text of today’s progress report, please visit www.childrensrights.org/michigan.