Children’s Rights Calls Dangerous Foster Care Conditions ‘Unacceptable’
DETROIT, MI — Five years after Michigan agreed to reform its child welfare system, the state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is still struggling in its most critical mandate –to keep kids safe from abuse and neglect, according to a report released today by the federal monitors charged with tracking the reform.
The report, covering the first half of 2012, is the sixth to be issued since the state first reached a settlement with Children’s Rights in 2008, and the second since the parties signed off on an updated agreement in 2011 to put the stalled reform effort back on track.
“The basic mission of foster care is to protect kids, so no one can be content that so many children are still being harmed in state care,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights.
According to the report, 241 kids were determined to have been abused or neglected in care during the monitoring period. And 1,805 of the 4,810 foster children residing with relatives at the end of the period were in homes that were not licensed, enrolled in the licensing process or waived from the licensure requirements.
“The number of kids in unlicensed kinship homes is deeply concerning, considering that 40 percent of all abuse in care occurred in these homes,” said Bartosz. “DHS has made strides to license more relative caregivers, but they must work harder to reach the finish line.”
The monitors also found that DHS failed to launch investigations on time for 35 percent of abuse and neglect allegations that required an immediate response, and failed to ensure caseworkers frequently visited with children. In June, 2012, just 73 percent of kids were visited monthly, and only 56 percent of kids were visited twice during their first month in foster care.
Michigan, however, has made progress in some other areas.
The number of legally free youth waiting to be adopted dropped from 4,237 in September, 2011 to 2,640 in January, 2013. The state has also exceeded its goal of finalizing juvenile guardianships. And it has expanded the support available to families after they adopt a child from foster care by awarding contracts to eight private adoption agencies to create post-adoption resource centers. The centers will provide services such as case management, in-home intervention, coordination of community services, education, training and advocacy.
“Michigan has shown that it is capable of implementing significant reforms,” said Bartosz. “It is now imperative for the state to focus on safeguarding children as it continues to repair its foster care system.”
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.