More than a decade after a federal judge approved Michigan’s sweeping agreement to fix problems with its child welfare system, the court-appointed monitoring team reported multiple ongoing concerns about the safety of kids under state care.
The latest monitor’s report — the 18th conducted since the agreement was approved in 2008 — covered the first half of 2020. It noted that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ met required performance standards in 13 of 35 areas monitored for compliance. There were 15 provisions which were not assessed for compliance due to COVID-19 disruptions.
Elizabeth Gretter, a senior attorney at Children’s Rights, which brought the case known as Dwayne B. v. Whitmer, praised the child welfare agency’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and other matters.
“We are dismayed, however, that many of the same critical safety functions that have plagued the state and placed children in harm’s way for years still remain at issue,” Gretter said in a statement, citing the report.
For example, she said DHHS is still not consistently performing initial and annual safety checks when kids are placed with unlicensed relatives. While kinship care is the preferred placement if a child must be removed from their birth parents, as opposed to foster care placement with strangers, this lapse should be corrected, she said.
Last year’s death of Cornelius Fredericks at the hands of staff in the group home where he lived raises a red flag regarding the state’s oversight of institutions and group homes, according to the monitor, which found plenty of evidence that children are sometimes put at grave risk for their safety and well-being.
Another highlight of the report shows that Black children made up 31% of kids in foster care, while making up just 17% of Michigan’s general youth population. The skew is even worse for kids in shelters, where Black children comprised 52% of residents.
Finally, the state continued to fall well short of the goal of finding a permanent placement for children within a year of entering state custody. Just over 1,700 children, or 27%, achieved permanency within 12 months, missing the goal of 40.5% by almost 800 kids.
Children’s Rights called on the new leadership at the Department of Health and Human Services “to seize this opportunity to focus not only on the safety of these facilities, but the ways in which the overrepresentation of Black children in these settings can be directly understood and addressed.”