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Foster Chaos Exposed

September 20, 2006 permalink

The chaotic state of foster care, normally concealed behind confidentiality, has been revealed in Michigan on account of a scandal. The state really has no idea where its wards are located, and cannot monitor them as required by its own rules. The millions appropriated for foster care turn into a pittance by the time they get to the foster home, necessitating financially neglectful care of the children.



Foster boy's death reveals wider neglect

Detroit center endangered or lost track of dozens, state says

Isaac Lethbridge
Isaac Lethbridge, 2, was beaten to death in a Stewart Center foster home. The center is appealing its state license suspension.
The Lula Belle Stewart Center is a nonprofit foster care agency that is among 241 private foster care and group home agencies licensed by the state's Department of Human Services.

The center, located at 1534 Webb in Detroit, was first licensed as a child-placement agency in 1993. It has 84 licensed foster homes, although state officials said only 51 homes had been assigned children.

From 1997 to July 31, 2006, the center's executive director was Edna Walker of Detroit. Walker, who retired to care for a dying aunt, said recently that she has been too busy to look into the problems at her former agency.

"Having separated from the agency, I'm not in touch with what's really going on," Walker said. "I know in general that it is a very horrendous situation, but I'm just totally in the dark on Lula Belle."

The center is named for the late Dr. Lula Belle Stewart, Detroit's first African-American pediatric cardiologist.

Jack Kresnak

After the Aug. 16 killing of a 2-year-old boy in a foster home licensed through the Lula Belle Stewart Center in Detroit, a team of seven state child abuse investigators took a closer look at how the agency was caring for its 106 other foster children.

What the investigators found was startling:

  • Seven of the center's foster children were in placements deemed dangerous or unacceptable and were immediately pulled out.
  • Six children were not in the homes where the Lula Belle Stewart Center said they were, including two who were living in other states without the knowledge of the state Department of Human Services.
  • Twenty-one children could not even be located immediately. All but two have since been found, but two remain among 266 missing foster children statewide, the vast majority of them runaways.

The disturbing pattern of problems at the Lula Belle Stewart Center is documented in an updated state licensing report obtained Tuesday by the Free Press.

The center's license was suspended shortly after 2-year-old Isaac Lethbridge was beaten to death inside the Detroit foster home of Charlise Adams-Rogers, a placement made by the Stewart Center.

Detroit police are continuing to investigate Isaac's death and have not made an arrest.

"This is an enormous tragedy and continues to have the highest level of attention in the department," DHS spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said Tuesday. "The safety of children is our primary responsibility."

After Isaac's death, an initial licensing report showed that some of the Stewart Center's foster care workers had failed to report Isaac's suspected abuse to Child Protective Services, as required by law.

Sorbet said Tuesday she was unable to answer why the DHS had not caught the problems at the Stewart Center earlier. She said the center is only the second to incur a suspended license in the last few years.

The DHS's Office of Children and Adult Licensing is seeking to permanently revoke the center's license to place children in foster care. The center is appealing the license suspension and the revocation effort in a hearing that began Tuesday in Detroit before state Administrative Law Judge Carole Engle.

Janet Burch, the Stewart Center's interim director who came to the troubled agency on Aug. 1, was present for Tuesday's hearing but on the advice of the center's lawyer declined to comment.

How foster care is monitored

Private foster care agencies receive from the state daily administrative rates to supervise foster children that range from $18.48 to about $33, depending on the difficulty of care of individual children. Foster parents receive basic rates of about $12 to $17 per day per child or more, depending on the level of care required.

Sorbet said the DHS's licensing office monitors how the state's 241 private child-placing agencies comply with rules and regulations. As part of the process, personnel files and some case files at each agency are audited every other year and some agencies are audited at random in off years, she said.

Other DHS workers monitor how the private agencies are supervising the children assigned to their care. That monitoring involves reviewing documents related to the children's care but does not include actually seeing the foster children unless someone files a complaint.

The state's latest licensing report, however, said workers at the Stewart Center often misled the DHS and family court judges about the care of children under the center's supervision.

From Aug. 17 to Aug. 24, according to the state's latest report, DHS child abuse investigators tried to visit 51 of the Stewart Center's 84 licensed foster homes in an attempt to see 106 children the center's documents listed as being placed in those homes.

In five cases where a Lula Belle Stewart Center foster care worker had specific knowledge of possible child abuse or neglect, the center failed to initiate a special investigation as required by the state, the report says.

Investigators finds other lapses

These are among the other problems the state found:

  • A foster parent listed by the Stewart Center as being deceased was alive and caring for three adopted children.
  • Four homes listed as licensed foster homes were vacant and one foster home had two adults living there who had not been cleared by the center through criminal background and Child Protective Services records checks -- a requirement for adults living in foster homes under state licensing regulations.
  • A foster home that the center said was caring for four children actually had only one child. Two children had been moved and the foster parent told investigators the fourth child never was in her care.
  • Another foster parent told CPS investigators that a child listed by the Stewart Center as being in her home had not lived there for four years. That foster parent also said that no workers from the center had been in her home for more than a year. Foster care workers for private child-placement agencies are required by the state to visit foster children in their homes at least once every 30 days.
  • Another foster parent reported that a child in her home had run away on July 6, 2006, but the foster parent said the center never contacted her further about the missing child. Another foster parent said no Stewart Center worker had visited her home since October 2005.
  • One foster child had been placed by the center into a foster home that state licensing records show had been closed in March 2004.
  • Four foster homes listed by the Stewart Center as having foster children in fact did not have any.

State licensing workers, who removed all foster care files from the Stewart Center on Aug. 21, said foster care licenses had expired for 26 of the center's 84 homes from October 2001 to June 2006. The center later renewed some of the licenses.

After the license suspension, the cases of all foster children under the Stewart Center's supervision were taken over by the DHS, which then assigned those children and foster parents to at least 15 other private foster care agencies.

Source: Detroit Free Press