Children’s Rights and State Officials Announce New Plan to Jumpstart Michigan’s Child Welfare Reform Efforts

DETROIT, MI — National advocacy organization Children’s Rights and Michigan state officials announced today a new, modified settlement agreement that will reinvigorate what has been a plodding reform of the state’s struggling child welfare system — and ultimately produce genuine results for vulnerable children and families.

The new agreement (PDF) was filed today in federal court to address the previous administration’s failures to meet the requirements of the original court order secured in 2008. Following a series of disappointing progress reports, Children’s Rights and the court-appointed monitor began negotiations earlier this year with newly-elected Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed Department of Human Services (DHS) director, Maura Corrigan, to create a new plan that will get the critical reform effort back on track.

“This new settlement is truly a victory for the kids and families in Michigan,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “Gov. Snyder, Director Corrigan, and their team at DHS have demonstrated a truly laudable commitment to make reform happen. While the state has a long road ahead of it, it is extremely encouraging to see this new administration not only place child welfare as a top priority, but truly embrace reform.”

This new settlement, which replaces the original agreement from 2008, requires the state to take immediate action steps to address serious issues related to permanency and well-being for youth in foster care. This includes:

  • ramping up efforts to find permanent, stable families for older youth who may have otherwise been relegated to age out of foster care.
  • increasing annual adoptions and subsidized guardianships for children in foster care who need permanent families across the state.
  • building better services and supports for youth about to age out of foster care without a permanent family, including identifying each youth’s needs related to housing, education, employment, and health care.

The state has also recommitted to several longer-term strategies to improve the overall child welfare system, including:

  • strengthening the DHS workforce with better training and lower caseloads.
  • improving the quality of work with kids and families with better and more accurate data collection and reporting.
  • implementing a statewide model of child welfare practice that emphasizes keeping children with families, preferably their own, and engaging children and families in critical decision making.

The monitor also filed a new progress report (PDF) today, covering the previous administration’s reform efforts between April 1 and September 30, 2010. The continued failures outlined in this most recent report — including continued failure to find permanent families for older youth and properly supporting young adults as they prepare to age out of the foster care system — underscore the need for this renewed commitment from DHS leadership.

Today’s progress report, issued by Public Catalyst, is the fourth since the original 2008 settlement of the class action brought against Michigan by Children’s Rights and co-counsel on behalf of the more than 15,000 children in the custody of the state child welfare system.

The first report on the state’s performance under the modified settlement agreement will track DHS’s progress from October 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011 and likely be released in early 2012.

Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action, now known as Dwayne B. v. Snyder, in August 2006, with Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Michigan-based law firm Keinbaum 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 modified settlement agreement and recent progress report, please visit www.childrensrights.org/michigan.

Related Media

Michigan’s foster care reforms appear back on track (Detroit Free Press, July 19, 2011)
Michigan gets flexibility in helping troubled kids (AP-Detroit, July 19, 2011)
New rules will speed adoptions, cut back red tape (Detroit News, July 19, 2011)