Rollout of New DHS Data System Essential to Tackling Foster Care Challenges, Says CR

State Fares Well With Adoptions, but Safety for Foster Youth Remains a Serious Concern

(Detroit, MI) – The rolling out of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS) statewide child welfare data system, while not without its challenges, is a positive step that will ultimately stand to improve foster care for the kids who live in it, Children’s Rights said today upon the release of the latest report from independent monitors tracking the state’s child welfare reform effort.

The report — submitted to U.S. Judge Nancy Edmunds by independent monitors from Public Catalyst — covers the state agency’s performance in the second half of 2013. It is the ninth to be issued since Michigan reached a settlement with national advocacy organization Children’s Rights in 2008, and the fifth since the parties signed off on an updated agreement in 2011 to put the stalled reform effort back on track.

The Michigan Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System (MiSACWIS) became operational on April 24, 2014. In the current monitoring report, the monitors note that the rollout has required scores of software fixes and technical corrections, and because of this a large number of goals related to the reform effort still cannot be measured.  The monitors reported that DHS anticipates reliable reporting from the new system will emerge in 2015. But they called the effort “a massive investment by both DHS and the United States Department of Health and Human Services….that is intended to provide more transparency into the agency’s operations and outcomes for children.”

In their report, monitors highlighted several major accomplishments that DHS made for children in the second half of 2013:

“Under the steady leadership of Director Corrigan, DHS has made significant strides toward building a child welfare system that is capable of meeting its heavy responsibilities to the state’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Sara Bartosz, lead counsel for Children’s Rights. “As DHS prepares to tackle the many challenges that lie ahead in this reform effort, it is far better equipped to realize additional successes because of the foundation that Director Corrigan has helped build.”

Children’s Rights and the court-appointed monitors asserted that abuse and neglect remains an area of significant concern. More than 1,100 children experienced repeat instances of abuse or neglect during FFY2013, and 152 children were abused or neglected in foster care during the same period. DHS would be required to protect at least 81 more children in care from abuse and neglect to meet the federal standard.

The monitors also noted that there is a disproportionate number of children in unlicensed relative homes who experience abuse and neglect. During the monitoring period, approximately 300 more families were given license waivers than in the previous period, and the reasons for granting many of these waivers were inconsistent with acceptable circumstances.  The monitors noted that underscoring the concern about waiver of licensure for relative homes is the “disproportionate number of children in unlicensed relative homes who suffer abuse/neglect while in these placements.”

And for the fourth consecutive monitoring period, DHS failed to provide enough visits between child welfare workers and children, and those workers and children’s parents. The agency also fell short when it came to providing two face-to-face visits between parents and their children in any month during the monitoring period.

“It is paramount that DHS continue to place keen focus on mending holes in its safety net,” said Bartosz. “Fundamental areas of practice such as regular visitation of children by their caseworkers and effective oversight and support of foster parents, including kin, must be strengthened.”

Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm in August 2006, with Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Michigan-based law firm Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton.