Michigan's child-welfare agency gets mixed report card

By Ed White

Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- Michigan's child-welfare agency, which agreed to improve foster care and other services for kids, has made significant progress in some areas but its overall performance slipped, according to a new report released Tuesday by a court-appointed monitor.

Kevin Ryan said Michigan needs more foster parents and that too many children don't have permanent families.

"It's still relatively early in the reform process," Ryan told a federal judge. "Reform on this scale takes time."

In 2008, the state settled a lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 20,000 children by a New York group called Children's Rights. Michigan agreed to many changes, including hundreds of new hires to reduce the caseloads of workers who oversee children in foster care or in protective services.

Ryan said thousands of children continue to wait too long for adoption. He didn't specify how long. He also found only 33 percent of kids whose parents lost their rights were placed in permanent homes when the goal was 50 percent of kids waiting the longest.

More than 30 percent of older kids were enrolled in Medicaid, the public health insurance program, but the number should be higher, Ryan said.

He and his staff found it "deeply troubling" that DHS had discovered mistreatment at some state-licensed facilities but didn't follow up.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds said nothing was "more important" than health and safety.

"I look forward to hearing a better report next time," she said.

On the positive side, the monitor said the number of children under state supervision dropped 5 percent to 16,224. More than half of 5,000 children awaiting reunification with family for more than a year got permanent homes.

"There are certainly signs of progress," Ryan said.

Children's Rights lawyer Sara Bartosz said she considers the state to be in non-compliance with the 2008 settlement, a position that could trigger negotiations about a remedy. She said she might need the judge's help.

"Children cannot wait. They've already been waiting long enough," Bartosz said.

DHS Director Ismael Ahmed said Bartosz' claim is unfounded.

"The question is whether we're getting there fast enough," Ahmed said outside court. "Steering it takes time. Some (DHS) people have worked themselves sick."

There's a consensus about one thing: Michigan needs more foster families. The department soon plans to launch an advertising campaign.

Published: Thu, Mar 11, 2010

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