Michigan Monitoring Report Shows Progress in Some Areas, But Critical Safety Concerns Still Plague the System

The court monitoring team in the ongoing federal child welfare reform lawsuit known as Dwayne B. v. Whitmer released the latest report on the progress of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHHS), finding critical safety concerns for children under state care. Filed today, this report covers the first half of 2020 (January-June 2020).

The following statement was issued by Elizabeth Gretter, Of Counsel at Children’s Rights, for the plaintiff children in the Dwayne B. v. Whitmer case:

The Monitoring Team’s latest report shows that the state has made progress in some areas of performance, including improved data quality, caseload numbers, and rising to the challenge of caring for children during an unprecedented global pandemic. Children’s Rights commends DHHS for their work in those areas, and extends our congratulations to Directors Elizabeth Hertel and Demetrius Starling as they begin their leadership of DHHS and the Children’s Services Administration.

We are dismayed, however, that many of the same critical safety functions that have plagued the state and placed children in harm’s way for years still remain at issue. First, both research and first-hand experience tells us that, when possible and safe to do so, children fare far better when placed in the care of relatives or fictive kin. Yet the latest report finds that DHHS is still failing to timely and consistently perform initial and annual safety checks for relative homes to make sure that children placed with unlicensed relatives are safe. Second, although the vital importance of effective state oversight of child placing agencies and, in particular, Child Caring Institutions or group homes, has been at the forefront since the tragic death of Cornelius Fredericks last year, the Monitoring Team found multiple safety concerns that put children at grave risk.

These immediate threats to the safety and wellbeing of children in the state’s care fall disproportionately on Black children. The report notes that Black children made up 31% of the children in DHHS foster care custody, while comprising only 17% of the general youth population. The disparities continue for Black children placed in shelters, who comprised 52 percent of all children in shelters and 58 percent of the children who exceeded length of stay requirements in shelters during the reporting period.

With new leadership at the helm, we encourage the state to seize this opportunity to focus not only on the safety of these facilities, but the ways in which the overrepresentation of Black children in these settings can be directly understood and addressed.

We look forward to working with Director Hertel, Director Starling and their teams to bring about much needed and long overdue change for Michigan’s children.

For more information on Dwayne B. v. Whitmer, please visit www.childrensrights.org/class_action/michigan/.