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MDHHS Details Progress of Child Welfare System

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On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) outlined progress that has improved the well-being of youth involved in Michigan’s child welfare system.

The MDHHS appeared virtually in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for the latest report from federal court monitors who have been tracking the progress since a court settlement in 2008 that came after a 2006 lawsuit.

“Michigan has made great progress over the past 13 years in keeping children safe and providing services to families,” said MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel. “While we realize we still have work to do, we strongly believe we have a self-reliant child welfare system and are moving closer to a system that does not need federal court oversight.”

According to the MDHHS, Hertel and MDHHS child welfare leaders shared the following improvements, including:

  • A substantial decrease in the number of children in foster care. The state had more than 19,000 children in care in 2008. Today, however, there are just over 10,000.
  • A large decrease in kids placed in congregate care facilities as more children are placed in family foster homes or reunified with their parents. In 2008, the state had more than 1,200 children in group facilities. Today, there are about 450.
  • A significant decline in overdue Children Protective Services investigations of suspected child abuse and neglect, from 1,260 in July 2019 to only 22 at the end of 2021.
  • Strategies that seek the voice of youth and families, including formation of a parent advisory board and another advisory group made up of people who have experienced the state’s child welfare system, including youth and foster parents.
  • A decline over the last 12 years in children being removed from their homes, along with an increase over the same period in children exiting care to be reunified with their families or adopted.
  • A significant decline in physical restraint of youth in child-caring facilities over the last two years.
  • A substantial improvement since 2019 in the safety of kids who are in foster care.

The MDHHS also says Director Hertel told the court that the department hopes to be able to exit federal court oversight by the end of 2022.

Federal monitors on Thursday released a progress report for the six months ending Dec. 31, 2020, which showed that caseloads for Children’s Protective Services staff and workers who monitor private child welfare agency staff continued to meet the settlement’s standards.

Data from the MDHHS shows the rate of child maltreatment in foster care for the 2020 fiscal year improved to 4.7 per 100,000 days in foster care, which is below the 9.7 rate required by the court and is down dramatically from 2019.

“I am particularly proud of the improvements we have made in increasing safety for children in foster care,” said Demetrius Starling, executive director of the MDHHS’s Children’s Services Agency. “Keeping children safe is our top priority. Our staff and private partner agencies have worked hard to protect children who are in foster care. We will strive to do better and continue our efforts to make improvements that will keep children safe and allow us to exit court oversight.”

The MDHHS notes that while progress has been sustainable, they recognize that further improvements are needed.

They state they will work to address challenges identified in the report, which includes improved documentation of investigations of maltreatment in care, oversight of contracted agencies, and finding kids in foster care a permanent home through reunification or adoption within 12 months.

To view the latest federal court monitor report, along with other information from the MDHHS,