Advocates Call for Immediate Improvements for Foster Youth as Michigan Reform Falters

DETROIT, MICH. – Two years into a comprehensive court-ordered effort secured by national advocacy group Children’s Rights to reform Michigan’s failing child welfare system, a new progress report shows thousands of children are still stranded in foster care waiting for safe, permanent families and more youth are aging out of foster care without homes or skills to live on their own.

While the Department of Human Services (DHS) has made some progress increasing the overall number of adoptions finalized and serving more children in family settings rather than in institutions, (PDF) by the independent monitor charged with monitoring the state’s reform efforts reveals serious systemic deficiencies, including continued high caseloads for caseworkers and a failure to recruit and retain enough foster homes.

“Unfortunately, DHS leadership has increasingly fallen behind, and worse, lost ground on important fronts,” writes the federal monitor. “There is a palpable sense of disappointment with the reform effort across the system, which has only grown over time.”

“This campaign for reform was not about simply securing a promise of change from the state, but about securing actual change for thousands of abused and neglected kids in foster care,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “After two years of disappointing progress, the course of this reform effort must be corrected immediately to bring rapid improvements to the lives of abused and neglected children statewide who have nowhere else to turn for protection and care.”

Tuesday’s report highlighted several ongoing failures at DHS, the worst of which include:

DHS is also still unable to provide complete and accurate data about the children and families in the system, considerably affecting the state’s ability not only to implement the reforms, but also to manage the system. For example, because of an inconsistent data collection system flawed by severe data lags and hand counts, DHS is unable to accurately report on how many children have suffered abuse and neglect in the state’s custody.

Issued by Public Catalyst, the new report — the third since the 2008 settlement of a class action brought against Michigan by Children’s Rights and co-counsel on behalf of approximately 19,000 children in custody of the state child welfare system — evaluates the progress made by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) over the six-month period between October 1, 2009, and March 31, 2010.

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. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a sweeping settlement agreement on July 3, 2008, and it was approved by the court that October.

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.childrenrights.org/michigan.