Posted on December 30th, 2010 1 comment
I am starting to see reports that Governor-elect Rick Snyder is expected to appoint Justice Maura Corrigan director of the Department of Human Services. Tim Skubick is reporting this, so it is reliable information. Justice Corrigan has an extensive background with foster care and adoptive services. Of course, this also means that Snyder will be appointing a new Supreme Court Justice to fill Corrigan’s seat.
With Corrigan’s experience and leadership on child welfare issues in both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, she is a natural pick. Clearly, Snyder has done his homework and is making good on his promise to bring Michigan into compliance with the consent judgment.
Posted on December 9th, 2010 No comments
The court-appointed monitor of the Department of Human Services’ 2008 reform agreement issued a report this week that found the department has failed to comply with the court-ordered changes. As a result, on Monday, Children’s Rights threatened to file a motion to hold DHS in contempt and seek the appointment of a receiver to enact the required reforms. According to the report, DHS is working hard to implement the changes required to protect children in foster care, but “their best efforts are often undone by poor planning and lack of adequate coordination.” To use the language of child protection law, without regard to intent, DHS has failed provide the children in its care with proper or necessary support, education, medical, surgical, or other care necessary for their health or morals. In other words, if the state were a parent, the Court would have to take jurisdiction of these children.
Shortly after Children’s Rights indicated they were seeking a receiver, they apparently received a call from the Governor-elect Rick Snyder, who assured them that his incoming administration will make fixing DHS a priority. Based on this, Children’s Rights signaled they were going to hold off on any such request.
I certainly hope Gov. Snyder can improve the state of foster care over at DHS, but I am doubtful. Gov. Snyder ran on a platform of “streamlining” Michigan government. This usually means cutting budgets and that philosophy does not mesh well with the harsh reality that any improvement in Michigan’s Foster Care system is going to cost money – and lots of it. You cannot find “efficiencies” in foster care. In a perfectly efficient world, all parents would adequately care for their children and no state intervention would be necessary.
Whether it is parents or the state paying the bill, every parent knows it costs money to raise a child. The U.S.D.A. reports it now costs an average middle-income American family $222,360 to raise a child from birth to 18, for an average of $12, 353.33 per year. The question one has to ask is whether the political will is there to properly fund Michigan’s foster care system.
You can read the third period monitoring report here.
Posted on April 15th, 2010 No comments
The topic of this month’s OCBA Juvenile Brown Bag Lecture was appeals. We were fortunate enough to have Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Gleicher speak to our group. The seminar was very well-attended and informative. I was really impressed by Judge Gleicher’s grasp of this area of the law.
For those of us who follow this area of the law, Judge Gleicher’s work is very familiar. Her opinions in this area are very well-reasoned, but what I find most impressive is the impact she has had on the rest of the bench. In the short time she has been on the bench (she was appointed in 2007), there has been a shift in both the way the Court of Appeals views child protection cases and a renewed emphasis on these cases. The Court has published more opinions in this area than ever. This has even caused the Michigan Supreme Court to take up more termination of parental rights cases.
Here are a few of quick notes on Judge Gleicher’s seminar:
- It is important to preserve issues for appeal. She emphasized the importance of making objections and filing motions to make a clear record. As a trial attorney for 27 years, she understands how difficult this can be. She explained that unpreserved issues require a great deal analysis to even reach the substantive issue than an issue preserved at the trial court level. She also discussed the public policy of requiring issue preservation to create an incentive for parties to seek a remedy from the trial court first.
- The judge discussed hot topics in the Court of Appeals. The Court is looking at the ability of incarcerated parents to plan for their children by finding proper care and custody with family member or others while they are incarcerated. The Court is also looking at parenting time for children in care as a reasonable effort toward reunification.
- She also addressed the importance of appealing jurisdictional adjudications because the right to appeal jurisdiction is lost if an appeal is not timely filed. Raising the issue of jurisdiction after parental rights are terminated on a supplemental petition is considered a collateral attack on the termination and is not permissible. Thus, trial attorneys should advise their clients that they have an automatic appeal as of right at the jurisdictional phase.
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 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 February 2nd, 2010 No comments
The Casey Family Scholars Program will award approximately 75 new scholarships for undergraduate study and career/technical training at accredited institutions and programs.
1. Have been in foster care for one consecutive year at the time of their 18th birthday OR have been adopted or taken into legal guardianship out of foster care or upon the death of their parents after their 16th birthday OR have lost both parents to death before the age of 18 and not been subsequently adopted or taken into legal guardianship.
2. Be enrolled in or accepted into an accredited post-secondary program at the undergraduate level (university, college, community college or vocational/technical institute.)
3. Be under the age of 25 on March 31, 2010.
4. Have been in foster care or orphaned while living in the United States. U.S. citizenship is not required.
The online application deadline is March 31, 2010 at midnight. I have attached a flyer (scholarships for foster youth). More information, including the application, can be obtained at the OFA Scholarships for Foster Youth Website. If you are the GAL for any qualifying foster child, please encourage them to apply.
Posted on February 1st, 2010 No comments
The New York Times featured an article this weekend about programs that aim to place older, hard-to-adopt children in adoptive placements. The article features an agency in St. Louis that hires a former police detective to track down long-lost relatives of teenagers languishing in foster care. The idea is to look for suitable relatives that would be willing to serve as adoptive caregivers for children. In many cases the relatives of parents that abuse and neglect their children and consequently have their parental rights terminated may not know where the children are, or even that they exist. The agency finds that, “lost relatives are a largely untapped resource for adoption.” The St. Louis agency is funded by a grant from Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, created by the founder of the fast food chain.
The article also acknowledges a nonprofit in Washington State that uses computer databases to locate relatives of children in foster care.
The article addresses the hardships faced by older children in foster care, who are typically some of the most difficult to find adoptive placements. These children face rejection and disappointments from being bounced around to different foster homes, the isolation and loneliness of living in a group home and a number of other difficulties. All of these can make it difficult to transition into a permanent adoptive home.
In Michigan, agencies such as Bethany Christian Services and Spaulding for children, who receives grants from the Dave Thomas Foundation, work to place older and special needs children in adoptive homes.
It is nice to see this issue getting some attention. You can read the New York Times Article here: A Determined Quest to Bring Adoptive Ties to Foster Teenagers.
Posted on January 26th, 2010 No comments
On January 12, 2010, The Detroit News ran an article with the headline “Child poverty, neglect on rise in Michigan.” The article summarizes some of the results of the annual Kids Count Report. Some of the facts in the article include:
- 40% of Michigan School children are eligible for free or reduced lunches, up from 30.7% in 2000.
- In Oakland County, 11% of children are in poverty, compared with 8.6% in 2005.
- Statewide, 1 in 5 children live in poverty.
- Poverty is tied to a 16 percent increase in confirmed cases of abuse and neglect since 2000.
- Childhood deaths are down with 18.9 deaths per 100,000 children ages 1 to 14, down from 23.1 in 2000.
- The infant mortality rate is down at 7.8 deaths per 1,000 infants from 8.1 in 2000.
- The rate of births to teens fell 20 percent over the decade.
The article correctly points out that increased poverty leads to increased instances of abuse and neglect because parents can’t provide for their children’s basic needs or take out their frustrations for their economic troubles on their children. It is interesting that in Oakland County, where poverty is on the rise, petitions seeking court jurisdiction over abused and neglected children are down. Based on the correlation between poverty and child abuse and neglect, shouldn’t we see more petitions being filed?
Some attribute the cause of the lower filings on the fact that the new Oakland County prosecutor no longer co-petitions with DHS in child neglect matters. Under this reasoning, the filings are down because DHS was being pressured into filing petitions by the previous prosecutor and the reduction is the result of DHS no longer filing petitions they consider unnecessary. Another theory is that DHS has hired new staff and this staff is being retrained. Whatever the cause, I find it hard to believe in these difficult economic times that child abuse and neglect is on the decline as the decrease in petition filings would suggest.
You can read the Detroit News Article here: Child poverty, neglect on rise in Michigan.
Posted on January 25th, 2010 No comments
The Oakland Press reports that CARE House in Pontiac may be expanding their facility. CARE House has submitted a request to the Pontiac City Zoning Board to re-zone property that includes the now closed Ducky’s Bar on Woodward between Earlmoor Boulevard and Nebraska Avenue. If approved, CARE House, who already owns the property, plans to demolish the bar and its own facility to build a new building at the location.
Most of us who do child abuse and neglect work in Oakland County are very familiar with CARE House. CARE House provides advocacy, prevention, intervention and treatment services to children who have suffered abuse and neglect. They also conduct forensic interviews of children who are alleged to have suffered abuse and neglect. According to the Oakland Press, CARE House has declined to talk about the plans publicly, but hopefully these new facilities will provide better rooms to conduct the forensic interviews also. I am sure we will be hearing more about this if and when the zoning plan is approved.
You can check out the Oakland Press article here: CARE House hopes to tear down Pontiac bar, build new facility
Posted on December 3rd, 2009 No comments
On Tuesday, December 1, 2009, the Detroit Free Press ran an editorial entitled Public Defense Must be Upgraded. The editorial opens, “Scandalously low pay. No standards. That’s the world of court-appointed attorneys in Michigan, and it’s a sham of the constitutional right to adequate legal counsel.” The article cites an interesting statistic that Michigan ranks “44th among the 50 states in spending — lower than Alabama.”
A House subcommittee and the Michigan Campaign for Justice looked at the issue and recommended adequate state funding and a state commission to oversee an office of public defense that would provide training and enforce uniform and reasonable standards. The editorial states that a package of bills will be introduced in the State House this month to address indigent defense. I hope indigent defense for juvenile delinquents, Lawyer-Guardian Ad Litems and respondents in child protection proceedings are included in the legislation.
With the budget woes in Lansing, it is natural to be skeptical that the State would take any action to increase the amount the it spends on anything, let alone indigent defense. However, there are a number of signs pointing to the fact that this may not be something Michigan can continue to ignore.
In 2008, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association released the findings of a study of Michigan’s public defense system, giving it failing grades in the areas of system independence, funding and structure; the method of screening for a client’s eligibility for public defense services; confidentiality; attorney availability, competency, consistency, training and quality; equality of resources among prosecutors and public defenders in a case; and a public defender’s advocacy for his or her client.
In March, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, a subcommittee within the House Committee on the Judiciary, held hearings to examine the extensive problems with how the State of Michigan ensures each resident’s 6th Amendment right to counsel.
In August, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin released a report (From Time Out to Hard Time) that found Michigan to be among the states with the most problematic theoretical and actual outcomes for young children who commit serious crimes along with Florida, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The report points out that children as young as 7 could receive a sentence of life without parole in Michigan.
Put simply, Michigan’s public defense system is getting a black eye nationally and this may provide the proper motivation for the legislature to act. Although, I must admit, it is going to be difficult to overcome public opinion against spending money defending people accused of committing crimes or abusing or neglecting their children. Naturally, I will be following this issue and posting any updates here.