Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, firstname.lastname@example.org
(DETROIT) — A new report on the status of Michigan’s child welfare system reveals serious ongoing safety concerns for children in the state’s care. From mishandled reports of maltreatment to improperly licensed homes, the report shows a disturbing trend regarding the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) continued failure to provide safe conditions for the children in its care, several years after the state entered into a settlement agreement with Children’s Rights and co-counsel.
Filed today by independent monitors, this report is the second released in two years following a federal judge’s approval of an Implementation, Sustainability and Exit Plan (ISEP). The state has been under court order to reform its system since 2008.
Unfortunately, too little has changed since last year’s report, released in 2017. The new report clearly documents practices that continue to expose children to an unacceptable risk of harm:
- Extensive safety concerns and exposure to maltreatment. The report found dangerous conditions in the state’s foster homes and continued exposure to maltreatment. In one case, a seven-year-old child living with a relative caregiver was repeatedly slapped in the face as a form of punishment. In this case and others, the report indicated that further investigation was warranted but not conducted.
- Relative licensing. Although DHHS is required to determine the safety of relative placements, the report found that a whopping 79.3% of a sample of relative homes in which children were placed “did not meet required safety standards” or did not have a timely home study completed. Some of the issues included guns and ammunition not stored according to state regulations, inadequate sleeping arrangements, and unsafe conditions such as broken windows or exposed wires in the home.
- Investigations and Screening. In the previous report, the monitors “identified concerns with the screening determinations made by Centralized Intake,” noting cases that should have been investigated further were instead screened out. For example, a three-month-old was being cared for by an unlicensed relative caregiver; although the child’s birth parents were not allowed any contact, the relative caregiver allegedly allowed them to see the child whenever they wanted. It is noted that the couple’s last baby died from ingesting opiates that were in the home. The monitoring team continued to find alarming cases where instances of maltreatment were not properly investigated.
- Unreliable reporting regarding maltreatment in care. According to the report, the state “did not have in place a system to accurately report the number of children who are abused and neglected while in the care of DHHS.”
“This is about providing basic safety for Michigan’s most vulnerable children,” said Sara Bartosz, lead counsel for Children’s Rights. “Almost a year after the last report, we’re seeing the same dangerous situations and are deeply concerned about the lack of progress.”
The report noted that the state has sustained a number of measures that are ready to exit court oversight. For example, DHHS achieved the required performance standard for measures related to helping youth transition into adulthood and managing caseloads, among others.
But with an abundance of ongoing safety concerns, it remains disturbing that rudimentary improvements have not been made.
“No doubt over the years important steps have been taken to improve the system, but 10 years into the effort it’s unacceptable that we find ourselves in this place,” said Bartosz. “Safety is paramount for these children, and we expect management to get laser-focused on making the needed improvements.”
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. The case settled in 2008 and the first modified settlement agreement was reached in 2011.
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