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More Power for Michigan DHS
July 4, 2008 permalink
A lawsuit between Children's Rights Inc and Michigan DHS has been settled. According to the settlement, DHS will reduce the caseload per social worker from current levels sometimes over 30 to 12 or 15, depending on the type of case. This reduction in caseload will be achieved by hiring up to 700 more workers, obliging the legislature to appropriate more money to pay their salaries.
The last thing children need for their protection is more caseworkers. We repeat our contention that lawsuits by Children's Rights Inc are a form of collusion with social services to gain more money and power.
Mich. settles suit, agrees to reform foster care
7/3/2008, 6:24 p.m. ET, By DAVID EGGERT, The Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan will hire hundreds of workers to help more than 6,000 abused and neglected children who have languished in foster care find permanent homes after settling a class-action lawsuit filed by an advocacy group.
Thursday's sweeping agreement, announced days before a federal trial was to begin in Detroit, also requires that foster care and adoption workers have no more than 15 cases and child protective services workers no more than 12. Many now handle 30-plus cases, causing concerns they can't keep children safe or ensure their placement in permanent homes.
State supervisors will oversee no more than five caseworkers under the settlement, which will be submitted for approval to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds.
To make caseloads more manageable, the Michigan Department of Human Services may add up to 700 staff dedicated to children's services over five years, spokesman Edward Woods III said.
Michigan's progress in complying with the agreement will be overseen by a monitor reporting to the judge.
Children's Rights, a New York-based advocacy group, in 2006 sued the state on behalf of 19,000 children in state custody.
Sara Bartosz, an attorney with Children's Rights, called the agreement a milestone "to correct the injustices that abused and neglected children in Michigan's custody have lived with for too long."
Gov. Jennifer Granholm said her administration will embrace the reforms, which she said will continue child welfare improvements made in recent years.
The changes required under the settlement will cost about $200 million over four years, or 6 percent more than what the state had planned to spend on children's services over that period. Previous settlement talks stopped when DHS said it had no money to enact reforms, yet both sides wanted to avoid a trial.
An expert witness for Children's Rights reviewed the deaths of five foster children and concluded that children are far too likely to be no safer in foster care than they were with their abusive or neglectful parents.
John Goad, former director of child protective services in Illinois, found serious shortcomings in how DHS is structured and managed. Even if those problems and others didn't exist, Goad said, not having "nearly enough" caseworkers by itself is rendering the department incapable of protecting children.
The agreement sets deadlines by which caseloads have to be reduced. Ninety-five percent of foster caseworkers must have no more than 15 cases by October 2011.
Other provisions require DHS to:
- Create a Children's Services Administration dedicated exclusively to child welfare functions, headed by someone at the rank of deputy director or higher.
- Hire 40 specialists to license about 7,000 relatives of foster children. Without licenses, relatives who provide foster care aren't eligible for some financial support and aren't subject to safety assessments.
- Immediately identify all children in need of a permanent home, prioritizing those awaiting adoption more than a year.
- Do a better job recruiting foster and adoptive families.
- Hire a medical director to oversee policies including children's use of psychotropic medications. There have been problems with children not getting medical, dental and psychological exams.
- Increase training of supervisors and caseworkers.
An independent, court-ordered study has shown a foster system riddled with failures.
Children's Rights Executive Director Marcia Robinson Lowry said the reforms will take time to implement but are achievable. Through lawsuits, the group has prompted consent degrees or court orders affecting child welfare in several states such as New Jersey and Mississippi.
To improve the system, the state hired hundreds of more foster care workers this budget year and boosted rates paid to private agencies that care for abused, neglected or delinquent children.
David Eggert can be reached at deggert(at)ap.org
Read the settlement: childrensrights.org (pdf)
Source: Michigan Live