Report finds state's child welfare system improving

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s child welfare system got some good marks in the latest report by court-appointed monitors, but it still faces many challenges in protecting children and licensing foster homes.

There were 1,800 foster children living with relatives in homes that weren’t licensed. The monitor’s team also found that the Department of Human Services was timely in responding to certain abuse allegations only 65 percent of the time.

The report found that 269 children were victims of abuse or neglect in foster care, 40 percent of them by relatives whose homes were not licensed.

“No one can be content with that. Child safety is essential,” said Sara Bartosz, a lawyer with New York-based Children’s Rights, whose 2006 lawsuit led to an agreement to make changes at the child welfare agency.

The latest report, issued last week by monitors Kevin Ryan and Eileen Crummy covered a six-month period ending last June, when there were approximately 13,890 children in foster care, about half of whom were 6 years old or younger.

The report found that Michigan has reduced the number of child welfare caseloads per worker, thanks to a hiring blitz in 2011, and successfully installed a statewide hotline for abuse reports instead of using local systems.

“The monitoring team continues to be impressed by the level of commitment” at the department, the report said.

Challenges remain, though. The report found that Michigan had trouble determining how many children are living under one roof.

The state restricts the number of children in a foster home, although there are exceptions if they are siblings.

Department director Maura Corrigan said a new computer system should solve that issue as well as others that require reliable number-crunching.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds lauded Corrigan and her staff, which came aboard in 2011 after the election of Gov. Rick Snyder.

The child welfare program “was in terrible shape” before the lawsuit was filed against Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration.

“It would be foolish not to recognize there are significant areas that still need a lot of work,” said Edmunds, who doubts the case will end by the end of 2014.