State chided over bid to get out of child welfare case

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — The group that forced the state of Michigan to improve its child-welfare system is vigorously opposed to ending court oversight, calling it a drastic step that would put kids at risk.

In a sharply worded response to an earlier filing by the state, New York-based Children’s Rights said the Department of Human Services still has much work to do and must show 18 months of full compliance before a 2011 agreement can be lifted.

The state is putting a “desire to exit from this decree over the legal rights of vulnerable children and the commitments that they made to do right by them,” attorney Sara Bartosz said in a court filing late last month.

A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 14 in U.S. District Court, the first since the department said it wants to be released from the agreement.

The state said the case should be closed or the agreement modified because 79 percent of goals have been met.

Since 2008, the department has been under the eye of a court-appointed monitor to settle a sweeping lawsuit over a range of child-welfare issues, including foster care, child protection and health care. The agreement was rewritten in 2011 after the watchdog group warned that the department was failing to comply under Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

The department is under new management after the resignation of Maura Corrigan, who has been widely credited with improving compliance during her four years under Gov. Rick Snyder.

A new computer system plays an important role in tracking the reforms. But Bartosz noted that the state last month still called it a “work in progress.”

“Simply put, DHS cannot effectively manage or sustain performance on what it cannot measure,” she said.

Children’s Rights filed the lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of nearly 20,000 children. The state has paid $8 million to the group’s lawyers since then and nearly $10 million to the monitoring team, DHS spokesman Bob Wheaton said.

Millions more have been spent to follow the agreement.

“Children’s Rights did not say anything we did not expect,” Wheaton said Wednesday. “We remain confident the constitutional rights of the plaintiffs are no longer being violated.”