Report Blames Michigan Child Welfare System for Abuse, Death of Children in Foster Care

DETROIT, MI — Likening the management of Michigan’s Department of Human Services to “blindfolded school bus drivers,” unable to see and respond to impending dangers to the children in its custody, a scathing new report by an expert in Children’s Rights’ child welfare reform lawsuit against the state of Michigan lays the blame for several children’s deaths squarely at the agency’s feet.

The report, issued by an independent consultant with more than 30 years of experience working in child protective services, examines the cases of five children who died in DHS custody — some from extreme physical abuse — and provides a long and detailed list of failures throughout the department’s management and investigations of alleged abuse and neglect in DHS foster care placements that, it says, render DHS incapable of protecting the children in its care. (The full report can be found here.)

Today’s report corroborates the findings of another released last week that examined DHS’s management in close detail (characterizing its practices as a “formula for disaster”) as well as findings from a review of 460 individual cases of children in DHS custody — and concludes that DHS has knowingly used misleading calculations to obscure the rate at which children in its custody suffer maltreatment. According to both last week’s case review and today’s report, Michigan’s rate of maltreatment in foster care is two and a half times the standard deemed acceptable by the federal government.

“While the Michigan Department of Human Services has tried to distance itself from the disastrous results of its dangerous practices, children have been dying in its custody and on its watch,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights. “Today’s report reveals the stories behind the statistics, and illustrates in no uncertain terms what is at stake if DHS does not commit to real reform immediately.”

The children whose cases are highlighted in today’s report include:

The report cites widespread systemic problems throughout DHS that it says created the conditions that contributed to these children’s deaths—and place the 19,000 children currently in DHS custody in similarly grave danger. According to the report:

The report further notes that DHS’s shortage of caseworkers would be enough by itself to preclude the agency from adequately protecting the children in its care–and echoes concerns raised by last week’s case review that the agency places children in unlicensed foster homes with relatives as a means of maintaining a “second class” of placements that receive neither appropriate safety and criminal background checks nor adequate financial support.

“Combining the disturbing deficiencies in MDHS’s performance in the five cases reviewed with the many serious shortcomings found in the agency’s structure, regulation, practices, overall management, and — especially — staff resources, it is clear that children are far too likely to be no safer in foster care than they were with their abusive and neglectful parents,” the report concludes.

Today’s report will be offered as evidence in the federal class action known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, brought against Michigan by the national child welfare watchdog group Children’s Rights, the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, and local counsel Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton. The lawsuit charges 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.

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