LANSING, Mich (Michigan News Source) – There is some good news coming from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) concerning child protection. They’ve been putting in serious work to boost the state’s child welfare system, and it appears to be paying off. Thanks to a federal lawsuit, these changes by MDHHS have been closely watched by federal court monitors and improvements are being made.

Positive developments in the state’s child welfare system.

MDHHS recently appeared before Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and received a commendation for their progress, having hit performance targets in six additional areas of oversight. This brings Michigan closer to getting out from under court supervision. Judge Edmunds called the progress “tremendous.”

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This all started with a 2006 lawsuit from Children’s Rights against the old Michigan Department of Human Services. By 2019, the Michigan Implementation, Sustainability, and Exit Plan (MISEP) was created to guide these improvements.

Key improvements highlighted.

MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel expressed her enthusiasm, stating, “MDHHS remains committed to keeping families together safely. I am proud of the work we do and the progress we have made as we continue to work toward excellence in our child welfare system. We remain focused on the requirements remaining in the agreement.”

Some of key improvements include better adoption caseload standards with 88.1% of adoption workers now having a more manageable caseload of no more than 15 kids. Sibling placements are also improving with about 80.8% of siblings entering care together being placed together. For those who aren’t in foster care together, 78.2% now are having at least monthly visits with each other.

The MDHHS also reports that 87.1% of kids entering foster care are getting their initial medical and mental health exams within 45 days, and 80.9% within 30 days.

Demetrius Starling, a senior deputy director of the MDHHS Children’s Services Administration, reiterated their dedication to improving child safety and well-being, saying, “We continue to follow our Keep Kids Safe Action Agenda, which commits the department to the nation’s highest standards. Working with police, judges, legislators, and other partners, we won’t be satisfied until Michigan is the best place in America to raise kids and build families.”

However, concerns persist.

Things aren’t all rosy though. A recent federal report reveals that Michigan’s foster care system continues to struggle with abuse and neglect, meeting only six of 28 federal compliance requirements. Despite efforts to improve since a 2008 consent decree, the state remains under federal oversight. The report highlights significant issues in investigating abuse and neglect cases,

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with a victimization rate of 14.5 per 100,000 days in foster care – well above the federal goal of less than 9.07. Over the past three years, this rate has increased from 5.55 in 2021 to 8.04 in 2022.

Persistent issues in foster care.

Abuse and neglect were most prevalent in child-caring institutions, including group homes and residential treatment centers, often due to improper supervision. Common issues in relative foster homes included unauthorized visits by biological parents and substance abuse. In non-related foster homes, physical abuse was most common.

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General identified Michigan as one of 16 states unable to track multiple maltreatment incidents within or across facilities, hindering systemic improvements. Additionally, the state often failed to properly implement corrective action plans, with repeated violations occurring despite these plans being in place.

Areas needing improvement.

The state is still struggling with documenting and getting consent from parents for the use of psychotropic medications, ensuring workers visit parents, facilitating twice-monthly visits between parents and their children, and ensuring residential care homes comply with corrective action plans. About 66% of kids whose family goal is reunification with their parents had twice-monthly visits with their parents, though the goal is 85%.

And as stated above, there are significant areas requiring improvement in the handling of investigations into abuse, neglect, and improper supervision in foster care. The court monitors could not verify the state’s performance in handling these investigations because 32% of the 120 reviewed investigations were deficient. This included cases where there wasn’t enough information gathered to make a finding and instances that should have been substantiated as abuse or neglect but were not.

While Michigan has made notable strides in improving its child welfare system, significant challenges remain. The state must continue to address these issues to ensure the safety and well-being of children in foster care.