Federal Court Approves Landmark Settlement Mandating Michigan Child Welfare Reform

DETROIT, MI — A settlement agreement requiring comprehensive reform and federal court oversight of Michigan’s long-failing child welfare system was approved today by U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds, who hailed the settlement as going as far as possible to address the system’s problems and put in place the best means of solving them. A court order compelling the state to implement the reforms will be entered on October 24, resolving the first phase of the federal class action brought against the state by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights and a team of attorneys from Michigan and across the country.

Known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, the suit was filed on behalf of the approximately 19,000 abused and neglected children in the custody of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and charged the state with violating children’s constitutional rights by failing to protect their safety and well-being and find them permanent homes.

The court-enforceable agreement requires DHS to establish a Children’s Services Administration dedicated exclusively to providing protection, treatment, and services to children in state custody and those who have been reported for abuse or neglect. The agency must take aggressive action to move more than 6,000 children who cannot return home into safe, stable, permanent homes; improve investigations of reported child abuse and neglect; reduce the occurrence of maltreatment in foster care placements; recruit and retain an adequate group of potential foster and adoptive parents; and provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to children in state custody. The state’s progress in complying with the agreement will be overseen by a neutral monitor who will report to the federal court, and Children’s Rights will continue to monitor Michigan’s efforts and enforce the court order if necessary.

“This settlement is truly a landmark victory for the thousands of children dependent on Michigan’s child welfare system,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “While the improvements won’t happen overnight, the court’s approval of this agreement gives Michigan’s children power they’ve never had before: a binding commitment from state officials to make the system better and the authority to go back to court if the state fails to deliver.”

Among the specific requirements of the agreement:

The Dwayne B. v. Granholm class action was filed by Children’s Rights, Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, and Michigan-based law firm Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton in August of 2006. Following two failed attempts at reaching a deal to settle the case in early 2007 and May 2008, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a sweeping settlement agreement on July 3, 2008.

Full text of the Dwayne B. v. Granholm settlement agreement, as well as the class action complaint, are available at www.childrensrights.org/michigan.

Media Contacts:
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210