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Child Welfare Reform Update
In August, 2006 Children's Rights, Inc., a national advocacy group focused on reforming child welfare systems, filed a class action lawsuit in federal court seeking to reform Michigan's foster care system. The complaint alleged that the state violated the constitutional and federal laws by failing to: move children quickly into safe, stable, permanent homes; provide children with adequate medical, dental and mental health services; provide safe and stable foster homes, and prepare children who age out of the foster care system. The complaint also alleged that Michigan's child welfare system was poorly managed, underfunded, and insufficiently staffed which put children at risk of harm.
On July 3, 2008 then Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a settlement agreement which was approved in federal court on October 24, 2008 as a court-enforceable Consent Decree. Following four monitoring periods of the Consent Decree, the new administration of Governor Rick Snyder took office and the newly appointed department management began several months of negotiations with Children's Rights to refine and update the original Consent Decree. On July 18, 2011 a Modified Settlement Agreement and Court Order (MSA) was approved by the District Court.
In December 2014 the department filed a motion to vacate the MSA or at a minimum to significantly modify the agreement and injunction. The motion noted that systemic and substantial progress demonstrates that the constitutional rights of plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit are no longer being violated – which under a U.S. Supreme Court opinion means federal monitoring should not continue.
In May 2015 the state and Children’s Rights came together to renegotiate the MSA with the intent to refocus the requirements in the agreement on the most important issues; improving safety and well-being outcomes for children in the state’s child welfare system. On February 2, 2016 the Implementation, Sustainability and Exit Plan (ISEP) was approved by the District Court.
Michigan's progress in complying with the agreement continues to be overseen by the court-appointed monitors, Kevin Ryan and Eileen Crummy, of Public Catalyst. Mr. Ryan and Ms. Crummy lead a team of staff (commonly referred to as the Michigan Monitoring Team, or MMT) who monitor and consult on Michigan's efforts to reform the child welfare system. The Monitors are responsible to conduct verification activities on an ongoing basis and report to the federal court on progress and compliance with the requirements of the ISEP.
Michigan is very proud of the momentum that has been gained since the original Consent Decree in 2008. The leadership and innovation within the Department and partner agencies has fortified them to continue their successful reform efforts.