Meetings with MDHHS stakeholders seek to improve safety for children placed in child-caring institutions; Department taking swift action after death of youth earlier this year

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 29, 2020 

CONTACT: Bob Wheaton, 517-241-2112, wheatonb@michigan.gov

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) today kicks off discussions with a broad-based group of stakeholders who are focused on improving the safety of foster and juvenile justice youth placed in group settings.

MDHHS’s Children’s Services Agency is leading a steering committee that includes parents, youth in care, and representatives of child-caring institutions, courts, advocacy groups and higher education.

Reducing and ultimately eliminating coercive practices, such as restraint and seclusion of youth, will be a priority. These practices that have been used to force behavioral compliance can retraumatize children who have already suffered, lead to loss of self-esteem, and cause an increase in injuries to staff and youth.   

This initiative follows the tragic May 1 death of a youth after he was wrongly restrained in a licensed Michigan facility in Kalamazoo.

“This child’s tragic and unnecessary death created an urgency for reform and accelerated our efforts to improve the safety and quality of residential services provided to children,” said JooYeun Chang, executive director of the Children’s Services Agency, which is responsible for the care and supervision of children in foster care. “It’s important for us to hear the voices of everyone involved in the child welfare system, including stakeholders, courts, providers and the agency. But we want to make sure we are listening in particular to children who have experienced placement in a residential setting and their families.”

Immediately following the youth’s death, Chang initiated extensive internal reviews and requested a rapid assessment of oversight of Michigan’s licensed child-caring institutions by a group of national experts.

In July 2020, following the assessment by Annie E. Casey Foundation, Casey Family Programs and Building Bridges Initiative, a report outlining recommendations for improvement was issued.  

MDHHS announced in July emergency rules for restricting use of dangerous restraints in child-caring institutions while the department works toward its goal of barring restraints from facilities that serve youth in the foster care system. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed with MDHHS Director Robert Gordon’s finding of an emergency regarding current restraint procedures.

The department recognizes that time-limited residential services may be a necessary part of the mental and behavioral health services available for youth, but that policies and best practices must be wholly assessed to ensure youth are receiving the best outcomes possible.

“Michigan is fortunate to have many dedicated residential service providers who are eager and ready to help improve services to children and families through innovative and evidence-based practices,” Chang said.

The kickoff of the steering committee brings together youth and parents who have first-hand experience with residential services, and a variety of other public and private child welfare professionals to begin planning for implementation of the recommendations regarded as most critical.

Sean de Four, senior vice president and chief operating officer of Wellspring Lutheran Services, will co-chair the steering committee along with Chang. “The provider community is committed to working with the state and stakeholders to transform Michigan’s residential services to safely and effectively support children who have experienced trauma,” de Four said.

The MDHHS emergency rules and the recommendations from national experts can be found on the department’s website.

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