Posted on March 11th, 2010 No comments
Two Bills recently signed into law would amend MCL 712A.19b(3)(m) and MCL 722.638 to permit a court to terminate parental rights only if parental rights were voluntarily terminated in cases that involved abandonment of a young child; criminal sexual conduct; severe physical abuse; life-threatening injury; murder; voluntary manslaughter; or other specified types of abuse. These laws will take effect September
Under current law, MCL 712A.19b(3)(m) permits a court to terminate a parent’s parental rights to a child if the parent voluntarily terminated rights to another child after abuse or neglect proceedings were initiated.
Currently, MCL 722.638 requires the Department of Human Services (DHS) to petition the family court to terminate parental rights to a child if there is a basis to terminate parental rights under MCL 712A.19b(3)(m). The amended statute will only require DHS to file a petition to terminate parental rights under the circumstances outlined in the amended MCL 712A.19b(3)(m).
MCL 712A.19b(3)(m), as of September 4, 2010, will read:
(3) The court may terminate a parent’s parental rights to a child if the court finds, by clear and convincing evidence, 1 or more of the following:
(m) The parent’s rights to another child were voluntarily terminated following the initiation of proceedings under section 2(b) of this chapter or a similar law of another state and the proceeding involved abuse that included 1 or more of the following:
(i) Abandonment of a young child.
(ii) Criminal sexual conduct involving penetration, attempted penetration, or assault with intent to penetrate.
(iii) Battering, torture, or other severe physical abuse.
(iv) Loss or serious impairment of an organ or limb.
(v) Life-threatening injury.
(vi) Murder or attempted murder.
(vii) Voluntary manslaughter.
(viii) Aiding and abetting, attempting to commit, conspiring to commit, or soliciting murder or voluntary manslaughter.
This change is a much-needed move in the right direction.
Posted on March 9th, 2010 No comments
The second independent semi-annual monitoring report to Judge Nancy Edmunds pursuant to the 2008 settlement in Dwayne B. v. Granholm was issued today. The settlement requires these monitoring reports to verify implementation of the child welfare reforms outlined in the settlement. The report finds that too many children remain stranded in foster care; thousands of children continue to linger in care without permanent families; too many youth continue to age out of care without healthcare or a permanent home; and too many children remain in unlicensed relative homes.
However, the report does find the some progress has been made. DHS made progress in returning children home; lowering the rate of entry into care; reducing the inappropriate use of detention; maintaining lower caseloads for foster care staff; and developing the placement and permanency policies they will need to improve outcomes for children.
The Report finds there are significant problems maintaining stable leadership within DHS. The report states, “The comings and goings and changes in reporting lines among critical DHS leadership staff has prevented the agency from forming a cohesive leadership team that is sufficiently planful and consistently communicates effectively internally and externally.”
You can view or download the report here: Second Independent Monitoring Report.
Children’s Rights issued a press release regarding the Report, which states as follows:
After making some initial progress in a comprehensive child welfare reform effort required under a federal court order secured by Children’s Rights, a new progress report shows Michigan has still not found safe, permanent families for thousands of children stranded in foster care, and is at risk of backsliding further unless the state immediately stabilizes its management team and structure.
Ineffective planning and an unfortunate absence of stable leadership have stalled efforts to provide permanent homes for large numbers of children who have been stranded for years in foster care — allowing far too many children to languish and age out of care without a place to call home, according to the report (PDF), issued today by independent experts appointed by the court to monitor the reforms.
Due to the lack of progress in this and other critical areas, Children’s Rights will put DHS officials on formal notice this week that it considers the state to be noncompliant with the court order mandating reform. The parties will then be required to work together with the expert monitor for the following 30 days to explore ways to remedy these issues and get the reforms back on track. If these efforts do not succeed, Children’s Rights could seek further court intervention.
“This report sends a clear message to Michigan’s leaders that they must stabilize their child welfare team and start delivering better results for the tens of thousands of vulnerable children whose lives and well-being depend on them,” said Sara Bartosz, senior staff attorney for Children’s Rights and lead attorney on the case. “While we understand this reform effort is a significant undertaking and will no doubt take time to implement successfully, it cannot succeed if key leadership positions continue to change hands and if required reforms continue to go unimplemented.”
Issued by the Public Catalyst Group, today’s report — the second since the 2008 settlement of a class action brought against Michigan by Children’s Rights and co-counsel on behalf of approximately 19,000 children dependent on the state-run child welfare system — evaluates progress made by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) over the six-month period between April 1 and September 30, 2009. It details several areas in which DHS has failed to make adequate improvements:
- Too many children and older youth continue to wait for stable, permanent homes. More than 6,000 children in Michigan’s foster care system are still waiting for permanent homes and more than half of the children already legally free for adoption nonetheless have waited more than a year for their adoptions to be finalized. Youth who do not find permanent families age out of foster care with inadequate preparation and a lack of adult connections.
- Youth aging out of foster care continue to face dismal outcomes. Eight percent of legally-free children aged out of the system without permanent homes in the last monitoring period, and the majority of older youth in care still lack adequate health insurance. Youth who leave foster care without permanent families or appropriate supports are far more likely to experience challenges with substance abuse, homelessness, incarceration, and mental and medical health issues.
- Some caseloads remain dangerously high. When child welfare workers are overburdened by too many cases, vulnerable children and families cannot receive the necessary attention and services they need. In Michigan, 37 percent of workers responsible for monitoring ongoing child protective service cases, including overseeing children placed into foster care, are carrying caseloads larger than 30 children each. Adoption workers are also continuing to carry caseloads that are too large.
While the challenges noted in the report loom large for DHS, the report recognized the state’s progress in a few key areas. Those improvements over the last six months include an indication the state is returning more children home to their birth families and the state is increasing the use of family settings for children without severe therapeutic needs in care instead of institutions.
Michigan’s ongoing budget constraints statewide continue to threaten the reforms at every level. The report notes that the state was often forced to divert resources from some areas of reform to support others, and even cut local county services to children and families by 20 percent in FY2009.
“Although we recognize that economic conditions have been particularly severe in the state of Michigan, it is essential that direct services for kids and families remain a top priority in Michigan,” Bartosz said.
Today’s report is the second monitoring report issued since Children’s Rights filed the child welfare reform class action, known as Dwayne B. v. Granholm, in 2006 with Edward Leibensperger of the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and Michigan-based law firm Keinbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton.
For more information about Children’s Rights ongoing campaign to reform the Michigan child welfare system, including the full text of today’s report, please visit www.childrensrights.org/michigan.
Report: State falls short on court-ordered child reforms (Detroit News, March 9, 2010)
Report: State foster care improving, but still lags (Detroit Free Press, March 9, 2010)
Posted on March 5th, 2010 2 comments
In a published opinion, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court order continuing child support after involuntary termination. The Court reasoned that there is no distinction between an involuntary termination and a voluntary termination.
I will be posting more about this case later. This was just such a big development I wanted to get it posted as soon as possible.
You can view or download the case here: In re Beck
Posted on March 4th, 2010 No comments
Brian Dickerson’s column in today’s Detroit Free Press asks, “Should parents’ welfare benefits be slashed when their children are chronically truant from school?” Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) president Keith Johnson answers this question in the affirmative. Under the DFT contract, teachers are held accountable for what their students learn. But, according to Johnson, teachers can’t do their job if students don’t show up, so he is encouraging Detroit Public Schools to adopt an “attendance requirement that penalizes students and parents for unexcused absences.”
School truancy is a rampant problem in the Detroit Public Schools. Dickerson cites data from the Detroit Public Schools that, “the typical Detroit high school student missed 46 days of instruction last year. Nearly a tenth of all high school students were absent more than 100 days. The school year is 183 days.” With attendance statistics like this, it is no wonder Detroit Public Schools are the worst in the nation.
I think we can all agree that schools alone cannot be responsible for a child’s education. It requires the schools, parents and the student to be active participants. Most parents understand the value of an education and don’t need a nudge in right direction. Tying school attendance to welfare benefits seems to be a reasonable requirement for those parents who need some kind of motivation to take an active part in their child’s education.
You can read Brian Dickerson’s column in the Freep here: Making parents pay for kids’ truancy
Posted on March 1st, 2010 No comments
Today’s Detroit Free Press (3/1/2010) featured an editorial in favor of repealing Michigan’s law requiring judges to impose the maximum adult sentence to juveniles as young as 14. The editorial is based on the fact that juveniles are less culpable for their crimes than adults. The article points out that “teenagers are more impulsive and unstable than adults, even without the abuse and neglect many young offenders have experienced.” You can view the editorial here (Repeal Michigan’s juvenile lifer law).
Posted on March 1st, 2010 No comments
The Detroit Free Press published a couple of excellent articles regarding mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles in Sunday’s (2/28/2010) paper. One article addresses whether children who commit murders should be subjected to mandatory life sentences. You can find the article here (2nd chance for killer kids?). The Free Press also wrote an excellent summary regarding how these laws came into being, the various public policies behind them and events that prompted them. You can find that article here ( State got tough on juvenile trouble-makers in ’80s, ’90s ).