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New report shows some child welfare progress at MDHHS

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A court-ordered monitoring team has found Michigan’s child welfare system met fewer than half of the standards the team reviewed under the terms of a 2008 settlement in federal court.

The team’s report shows the state met standards in 8 out of 17 of the "focus areas" it reviewed. The team did not assess 15 other areas for compliance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report found the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state's child welfare system, did well when it came to meeting caseload and data standards, but struggled to find children permanent homes within a year of entering foster care and failed to properly follow up on maltreatment allegations.

Health department Director Elizabeth Hertel acknowledged there are still areas where the state needs to improve.

“Changing a system is difficult and the department — the state actually — began early on with some of the items that really were essential to doing this,”’ Hertel said.

Even so, Hertel said she’d like to see court supervision end by the end of the year.

“We need to bring together all of the partners that we work with to take care of our kids across the state and make sure that we have the same expectations of each other and of how we’re caring for kids,” Hertel said.

Despite Hertel’s optimism, Samantha Bartosz, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the case that led to oversight, was dubious of the state's progress.

“We would celebrate side-by-side with the state that if children are receiving the right treatment in foster care, and that they’re safe and their wellbeing is supported, that would just be wonderful. But by the same token, commitments were made to get that point. And they haven’t been met,” said Bartosz, with the group Children’s Rights.

The state’s slow progress is despite several structural changes it undertook to remedy its child welfare system. Bartosz said the state has made good efforts, but it’s still falling short.

“It is very frustrating that this many years down the road, we’re still seeing poor performance in the area of child safety,” she said.

The report based its evaluations on data from the second half of 2020. The court is now asking the department to work with monitors on a new plan with up-to-date data that focuses on improving certain areas in the report. That update is due on April 20.

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