Some Improvements, But Critical Safety Concerns Remain In Latest Michigan Monitoring Report

The court monitoring team in the ongoing federal child welfare reform lawsuit know as Dwayne B. v. Whitmer released the latest report on the progress of the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHHS), finding critical safety concerns for children under state care. Filed today, this report covers the second half of 2019 (July-December 2019).

The following statement was issued by Elizabeth Gretter, Of Counsel at Children’s Rights, for the plaintiff children in the Dwayne B. v. Whitmer case.

“We find ourselves twelve years into this endeavor to reform Michigan’s foster care system and make it safer for kids.  While strides have certainly been made, I cannot overstate Plaintiffs’ frustration and disappointment in learning from this report that the state is still struggling to perform basic safety functions and to protect children from maltreatment while in foster care. We have confidence in the ability of this administration to right the ship, but to be clear, urgent action is needed.”

Among the areas where DHSS has improved performance are:

  • Worker-Child Visits: The state has demonstrated a strong commitment to worker-child visits during the period, including children being visited by a caseworker at their placement location at least once per month during the child’s first two months of placement, with at least one visit per month including a private meeting during the child’s first two months of placement in an initial or new placement.
  • Caseloads: The agency made strides in rightsizing caseloads for many DHHS workers, which provided an immediate benefit to children and the system as a whole. If these improvements can be maintained and carried over into the adoption worker units, the impact on children awaiting adoption will be equally beneficial.

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

  • Maltreatment In Care: The state failed to meet the MISEP outcome regarding maltreatment in foster care and was unable to verify the number of children abused and neglected while in state custody.
  • Relative Home Placements: The monitoring team found performance at a level of around 50% for key measures including, visiting relatives’ homes, conducting criminal and central registry background checks, and conducting a home study within 30 days. Furthermore, the monitoring teams’ review of 62 unlicensed relative placements found that only 6 of those placements, 9.7%, were run through the Michigan Public Sex Offender Registry.
  • Licensing and Oversight of  Facilities: The monitoring team found multiple instances of improper restraint, inappropriate sexual conduct, street fighting between youth, and other unsafe conditions, placing children in harm’s way.
  • Tragic Death: Cornelius Frederick, a Black 16-year old, was killed at Lakeside Academy after being improperly restrained by two adult staff members for 12-minutes. The DHHS investigation and the monitor’s report detail violations at Lakeside and ineffective oversight by DHHS, including 73 investigations into child abuse or neglect at the facilities in the two years prior to Cornelius’ death.

For more information on Dwayne B. v. Whitmer, please visit childrensrights.org/class_action/michigan/.