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Children at Risk: Reports Find Troubling Lack of Progress in Michigan Foster Care Reform

Contact: Daniel Kessel, 646-216-3343, dkessel@childrensrights.org

(DETROIT) – A new report finds that once again, critical safety concerns remain for children in Michigan’s child welfare system more than 10 years after the state entered a settlement agreement in Dwayne B. v. Snyder, a lawsuit filed by Children’s Rights and co-counsel. Not only do children face a severe risk of maltreatment while in foster care, they are subjected to inappropriate placement settings. At the same time, Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continues to lack an operating data system to properly track the more than 13,000 children in foster care.

Filed today by independent, court-appointed monitors, this report covers the period from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017and is the third released in three years following a federal judge’s approval of an Implementation, Sustainability, and Exit Plan (ISEP). The state has been under court order to reform its system since 2008.

Among other disturbing trends, the report notes several key areas in which DHHS has failed to reach many standards established in the settlement agreement.

  • Maltreated while in Care: 155 children were abused or neglected by their caregivers while in state custody, well above the agreed-upon standard for child safety. In one sickening case, a 12-year-old child at a residential facility was the victim of a staff member who grabbed the child, ripped his shirt, squeezed his genitalia, and threatened to “rip off” his testicles.
  • Repeat maltreatment: 1,270 children experienced repeat incidents of abuse or neglect, a large increase from the 1,008 children reported in the previous year.
  • Relative licensing: DHHS is required to determine the safety of relative placements, the majority of relative foster homes went unlicensed in this period. Less than 30 percent of relative homes had received required visits from DHHS prior to placement, while only 1.9 percent of unlicensed homes had completed a required waiver documenting exceptional circumstances that would explain the lack of licensure. Shockingly, DHHS’s performance in this category was so far below standard that “the lapses raise reasonable questions about agency leadership’s intentions,” the report notes.
  • Emergency or temporary facilities: Although the settlement terms require that no children be placed in a shelter more than once in a 12-month period, during this monitoring period 50 foster children experienced 69 successive stays in shelter care and 30 children experienced 34 successive stays in shelter care.
  • Psychotropic medication: Children in Michigan foster care continue to be subjected to the improper use of psychotropic medications. Informed parental/guardian consents were on file for less than 70 percent of the medications in this period, and only 25.9 percent of case files included adequate information on the use of the medication and potential side effects.

In a separate report, an independent analysis also found that the state continues to inadequately record the state’s child welfare data in its system, making it even more difficult to track and assess the status and needs of Michigan’s foster children. The evaluation noted “persistent and significant defects” that are likely to “inhibit effective casework, contribute to data-entry errors, [and] negatively affect outcomes for children and families,” ultimately undermining efforts to reform Michigan’s foster care system.

“We are exceedingly disappointed that after more than ten years, Michigan still finds itself failing the state’s most vulnerable children,” said Samantha Bartosz, Deputy Director of Litigation Strategy at Children’s Rights. “This long into reform, such grave safety concerns for children clearly suggest a lack of management focus.”

“It certainly does not help that DHHS continues to lack a functioning data system,” said Stephanie Persson, Staff Attorney at Children’s Rights. “This demands urgent attention. We hope that DHHS leadership will heed the warnings in this report and move the system in the right direction.”

Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action, now known as Dwayne B. v. Snyder, in August 2006, with Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Michigan-based law firm Keinbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton. The case settled in 2008 and the first modified settlement agreement was reached in 2011.

For more information about Dwayne B. v. Snyder, please visit childrensrights.org/class_action/michigan.

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About Children’s Rights
Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.