New Leadership at Michigan DHS Makes Headway

Michigan has made noteworthy steps toward overhauling its long-troubled child welfare system, according to the first monitoring report tracking progress made by the Snyder Administration’s new management at the Department of Human Services (DHS). MLive reports:

In a federal courtroom Monday afternoon, both a court-appointed monitor and the group that brought the lawsuit, Children’s Rights, lauded several recent measures by the Michigan Department of Human Services.

Among them:

* Extending foster care until youths are 21

* Establishing a centralized hotline for abuse and neglect reports

* Ensuring that youths transitioning out of the system have health insurance

* Hiring more than 700 child welfare workers

However, the report says the centralized hotline still requires trouble-shooting and fine-tuning as it completes its rollout. The Monitor further notes that DHS must establish a stronger system to track child welfare calls and separate them from adult protective service complaints.

Improving the accuracy and integrity of child welfare data in Michigan has been a glaring systemic need. In 2006, when Children’s Rights filed our suit to reform the state’s foster care system, Michigan’s aggregate performance data reflected a relatively low rate at which children were victims of abuse and neglect in foster care in comparison to sister states.

However, the new quality assurance program and enhanced data management capacity implemented thanks to our reform efforts has revealed that Michigan currently ranks among the bottom ten states when it comes to keeping kids safe in foster care. Now that a more accurate picture of agency performance has been captured, work on shoring up the child welfare safety net can proceed with a better understanding within agency management of the priority areas requiring resources and attention.

“The new director [Maura Corrigan] inherited the task of overhauling a troubled system,” said Children’s Rights lead counsel Sara Bartosz. “We are pleased that new leadership at DHS has conducted a top-to-bottom review of agency strengths and weaknesses and is working hard to implement the requirements of the consent decree in an energized and planful way.”

Corrigan said the report is a signal of “good progress” and expressed a commitment to meeting mandates:

“It has many promises over the next couple of years that we owe,” Corrigan said of the agreement. “But we have some great successes that we are very proud of.”

Although, Corrigan implemented some improvements during the three month period covered in the report, it remains far too early to assess the full impact of the leadership change.

For example, the report notes that caseworker visitation practices remain inconsistent, “Caseworker visits with children and their parents are not happening frequently enough,” said Bartosz. “A key element of achieving permanent homes for foster kids involves face-to-face time between the children and their caretakers so that appropriate bonds can be formed and trust can be developed. . And if the goal for the family is reunification, DHSmust improve performance when it comes to parent-child visits.”

Despite these challenges, Corrigan has expressed hope for the Department’s future. The Detroit Free Press reports:

DHS Director Maura Corrigan told the judge Monday that she hoped U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds would dismiss the agreement by the end of 2014.

Edmunds noted what she called “a different day, a different mindset, and a different atmosphere” in the courtroom compared to the struggles at the beginning of the reform efforts.