Federal Court Approves Landmark Settlement Mandating Michigan Child Welfare Reform

DETROIT, MI — A settlement agreement requiring comprehensive reform and federal court oversight of Michigan’s long-failing child welfare system was approved today by U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds, who hailed the settlement as going as far as possible to address the system’s problems and put in place the best means of solving them. A court order compelling the state to implement the reforms will be entered on October 24, resolving the first phase of the federal class action brought against the state by the national advocacy group Children’s Rights and a team of attorneys from Michigan and across the country.

Known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, the suit was filed on behalf of the approximately 19,000 abused and neglected children in the custody of Michigan’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and charged the state with violating children’s constitutional rights by failing to protect their safety and well-being and find them permanent homes.

The court-enforceable agreement requires DHS to establish a Children’s Services Administration dedicated exclusively to providing protection, treatment, and services to children in state custody and those who have been reported for abuse or neglect. The agency must take aggressive action to move more than 6,000 children who cannot return home into safe, stable, permanent homes; improve investigations of reported child abuse and neglect; reduce the occurrence of maltreatment in foster care placements; recruit and retain an adequate group of potential foster and adoptive parents; and provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental care to children in state custody. The state’s progress in complying with the agreement will be overseen by a neutral monitor who will report to the federal court, and Children’s Rights will continue to monitor Michigan’s efforts and enforce the court order if necessary.

“This settlement is truly a landmark victory for the thousands of children dependent on Michigan’s child welfare system,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. “While the improvements won’t happen overnight, the court’s approval of this agreement gives Michigan’s children power they’ve never had before: a binding commitment from state officials to make the system better and the authority to go back to court if the state fails to deliver.”

Among the specific requirements of the agreement:

  • DHS must improve its investigations of alleged child abuse and neglect and keep the children in its custody safer. DHS will establish a statewide child protective services (CPS) hotline, create dedicated CPSunits to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, increase caseworker visits to foster homes and facilities, and initiate regular safety reviews to ensure that children taken into state custody do not suffer further maltreatment.
  • DHS must take aggressive action to move children out of custody and into safe, stable, permanent homes. DHS will hire, train, and deploy a dedicated workforce of 200 new permanency specialists to address the needs of the more than 6,000 legal orphans who have languished in foster care for long periods of time. Additionally, the agency will begin planning simultaneously for children’s reunification with their birth families and for their adoption in case reunification proves not to be possible.
  • DHS must provide adequate financial support and safety measures for children placed in foster homes with relatives. DHS will engage 40 new licensing specialists to secure licenses for the approximately 7,000 unlicensed relative foster homes in Michigan. Without licenses, relatives who provide foster homes for abused and neglected children are not eligible for the financial support available to other foster families to help them provide for the basic needs of the children in their care, and they are not subject to the safety assessments that other foster homes undergo.
  • DHS must provide adequate medical, mental health, and dental services for the children in its custody.DHS will be required to meet the benchmarks for these services established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, undertaking a system-wide assessment to determine what it must do to meet the standards of the settlement agreement.
  • DHS must improve recruitment of foster and adoptive families. DHS will undertake a system-wide assessment to determine where and how many additional foster care and adoptive placements are needed, and will design and implement a recruitment plan to meet these needs.

The Dwayne B. v. Granholm class action was filed by Children’s Rights, Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, and Michigan-based law firm Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton in August of 2006. Following two failed attempts at reaching a deal to settle the case in early 2007 and May 2008, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a sweeping settlement agreement on July 3, 2008.

Full text of the Dwayne B. v. Granholm settlement agreement, as well as the class action complaint, are available at www.childrensrights.org/michigan.

Media Contacts:
Chris Iseli or Brooks Halliday // 212.683.2210