New Report Provides Disturbing Details of Failure to Ensure Safety in Michigan’s Child Welfare System

Thursday, June 8, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. EDT

Contact: Wende Gozan Brown at 347-526-5520 or wbrown@childrensrights.org

(DETROIT) — The latest report regarding the status of Michigan’s child welfare system reveals troubling details about failures to ensure the safety of children in its care—and also belies a lack of measurable data, several years after the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) unveiled a state-of-the-art management system that should ensure the state’s ability to track virtually every aspect of a young person’s experience in foster care.

The report is the first that independent monitors have filed in more than two years, following a federal judge’s approval of an Implementation, Sustainability and Exit Plan (ISEP) which, in 2016, supplanted a Modified Settlement Agreement. The state has been under court order to reform its system since 2008, after Children’s Rights and co-counsel brought to light a number of ills, including the maltreatment of youth in foster care, a lack of basic medical and mental health services and excessive lengths of stay in state custody.

Today’s report demonstrated several persistent and concerning practices:

  • The failure to fully vet and license kinship placements. While 80 percent of all relative placements are to have licenses or have submitted for a license, only 39 percent had this status during the monitoring period. And according to DHHS’ own records, fewer than half of children placed with unlicensed relatives are in homes that have had the required criminal and central registry checks, leaving youth at risk of being placed with registered sex offenders or in other dangerous situations.
  • The improper screening out of possible abuse or neglect. While the agency considers its performance to be high in this area, the monitoring team determined that 11 referrals that came through DHHS’ Centralized Intake system should have been assigned for investigation. This includes an allegation that a foster parent kicked a 9-year-old boy in the scrotum.
  • The use of Michigan’s MiSACWIS data tracking system remains faulty several years after being rolled out. There are nine remaining measures in the Plan that are classified as “unable to be determined,” or for which the state has not provided complete data. These include critical benchmarks such as the frequency of caseworker visits. The monitors noted a “pervasiveness of the data challenges identified during the verification process in preparation of this report,” causing them to devise a multi-pronged approach with DHHS to address the issue.

“It is deeply concerning that this far into the reform process, Michigan still cannot consistently assure the safety of children in its care,” said Sara Bartosz, lead counsel for Children’s Rights. “With kids’ very lives at stake, it puts a cloud over the strides the state has managed to make. We look forward to meeting with Director McCall and expect DHS will be prepared to discuss and identify strategies to implement corrective action.”

The report did note that the state has sustained several measures that are now ready to exit court oversight. DHHS achieved the required performance standard for caseload progression for new employees, and several measures related to children being placed in a timely manner with permanent, loving families or discharged to relatives without reentering foster care. These five commitments are provisions that will exit the ISEP.

Additionally, the monitors noted eight other areas of improvement during the monitoring period on a variety of measures, including the use of psychotropic medications with foster youth, the training and caseloads of licensing workers and registering children for school within five days of a placement change.

“Children’s Rights is gratified that the reform process has done so much to improve permanency for kids who desperately need stability. The state now must place sustained focus on child safety so that the promise of reform can be realized,” said Bartosz.

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.

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