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dept of Health and Human Services asks court to let state reclaim control of its child welfare system

Michigan’s tremendous progress means federal oversight is no longer appropriate

Detroit, Mich. Dec. 2, 2014 – Great strides made in improving the state’s child welfare system over the last four years mean Michigan should regain complete control of the system, the state Department of Human Services said in a court filing today.

The department filed a motion in U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Michigan seeking to dissolve a modified settlement agreement. That 2011 agreement – which came after a 2006 lawsuit against the state – provides for federal monitors to oversee Michigan’s child welfare system, which deals with abuse and neglect complaints, foster care and adoption.

The Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) notes in the filing that Michigan has met or substantially complied with 165 of 211 goals in the agreement. 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.

“Protecting vulnerable children is our top priority,” MDHHS Director Maura Corrigan said. “We have made tremendous progress in the last four years – as evidenced by our compliance with the modified settlement agreement goals. It’s time for the state child welfare experts who know how to best meet the needs of Michigan’s children to have the freedom to make the decisions. There is no longer constitutional justification for the class action child welfare litigation to continue.”

Ending federal oversight would free up $1.6 million annually that MDHHS spends on the court-appointed monitors so those dollars could be spent on helping Michigan’s vulnerable children, Corrigan said.

For example, MDHHS could use the money to expand Family Reunification Program services statewide to avoid foster care placements, nearly double the number of families served by an abuse and neglect prevention program or expand efforts to improve the quality of parent visitations with children in foster care.

Among the goals reached by MDHHS are those that involve: 

  • Finding permanent homes for children in foster care.
  • Establishing a statewide child abuse hotline.
  • Hiring and retaining qualified employees.
  • Training all child welfare employees.
  • Improving coverage of medical, dental and mental health care for foster children.
  • Implementing statewide measures to fully assess and improve the performance of the child welfare system.

For example, court monitors in their most recent report found that MDHHS finalized 2,361 adoptions in 2013 – 320 more than the targeted goal. The department also exceeded the federal standards for timeliness of adoptions in 2013 and surpassed the federal standards for achieving permanent homes for children in foster care for extended periods during 2013.

During this time MDHHS has significantly lowered caseloads, exceeding interim caseload targets for supervisors, Children’s Protective Services investigators and ongoing workers and meeting the final target for licensing workers.

During a September court hearing, the attorney for Children’s Rights, the advocacy group that filed the lawsuit, praised Corrigan for progress under her leadership since being appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011. “It’s enormous what you’ve done,” said the lawyer, Sara Bartosz.

In today’s motion, MDHHS attorney John Bursch said the progress represents lasting structural reform to the state’s child welfare system.

“The Department has made significant changes to the way it administers Michigan’s child welfare system, a system that has taken a dramatic turn for the better,” Bursch wrote in the filing. “Accordingly, it is time for the federal courts to once again allow the system to stand on its own two feet.”

If the court does not set aside the modified settlement agreement, it should at minimum eliminate federal monitoring of completed goals, Bursch wrote in the filing.