Michigan Settles Reform Lawsuit, Agrees to Overhaul of Failing Child Welfare System

DETROIT, MI — A settlement agreement mandating top-to-bottom reform and federal court oversight of Michigan’s long-failing child welfare system has been reached in 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. The settlement, to be submitted for preliminary court approval, would resolve the lawsuit known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, filed in 2006 on behalf of the approximately 19,000 abused and neglected children in the custody of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS).

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 monitor who will report to the federal court.

“After years of looking the other way as its child welfare system failed and children suffered and died needlessly as a result, Michigan has finally made a court-enforceable commitment to begin fixing its problems and producing better results for the children who depend on it,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, founder and executive director of Children’s Rights. “The required reforms will take considerable time and effort to implement, but they are both achievable and necessary, and Children’s Rights will remain involved as long as necessary to ensure that they take hold.”

Among the specific requirements of the agreement:

“We have reached a critical milestone in this campaign to correct the injustices that abused and neglected children in Michigan’s custody have lived with for too long,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights and lead counsel on the case. “The reforms required by this settlement will ensure that they receive at last the care and protection that all children are guaranteed under the Constitution and under the law.”

The Dwayne B. federal class action, brought against Michigan by Children’s Rights, the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, and local counsel Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton, charged the state with violating the constitutional rights of the approximately 19,000 children in its custody by failing to protect their safety and well-being and find them permanent homes. An earlier proposed settlement negotiated in early 2007 was abandoned by the state in May of that year, sending plaintiffs into preparations for trial.

The settlement agreement must be presented to the federal judge for approval at a fairness hearing to be scheduled.

“This is a major victory for the abused and neglected children of Michigan, who will now stand a much better chance of receiving the care and protection they deserve and desperately need,” said Edward P. Leibensperger, partner in McDermott Will & Emery.

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