Reforms coming to state foster care system

from: freep.com

October 7, 2008
MEGHA SATYANARAYANA
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

A federal judge today approved a massive settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of 19,000 Michigan foster children.

In a few days, the settlement will be signed, bringing broad reforms for a state system described by the children’s attorneys as “missing its mark far too often.”

The settlement comes after nearly two years of heated negotiations between the Michigan Department of Human Services, which oversees the nation’s seventh largest foster care system, and Children’s Rights, a New York-based child advocacy group that filed the class action lawsuit, saying the state did not keep its wards “free from harm.” The sides were set to go to trial on July 7, when an eleventh-hour settlement was reached.

“It goes about as far as it could possibly go, and it is my pleasure to approve it,” said U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, who praised both sides for preventing a prolonged and costly trial.

The reforms will spread throughout the agency and its private partners over a five year span ending in 2013, from hiring more case workers to ensuring basic mental and physical health care for state wards. In a rare move, DHS will hire a medical director to in part oversee what many believe is overuse of behavioral and psychotropic medications in the foster care system.

The lead plaintiff, Dwayne B., now age nine, was on multiple psychotropic drugs to stabilize his mood and behavior, which the lawsuit said became worse with each of eight moves while in the system. He is still awaiting adoption.

The lawsuit emphasizes “permanency,” be it reunification with birth parents, or severing of parental rights and a push for adoption. Of the 19,000 children in the system, 6,000 are ready for adoption and 7,000 live with family that isn’t registered for benefits with the state.

“It’s a large system, and the degree of chaos was extraordinary,” said Marcia Lowry, executive director of Children’s Rights. She said lawsuits such as theirs serve an “unfortunate” accountability function for states that do not uphold children’s rights.

Lead children’s attorney Sara Bartosz referenced the deaths of three children in Michigan’s foster care system as a catalyst for the lawsuit. The Free Press examined the 2006 deaths of Allison Newman, age 2, and Isaac Lethbridge, age 2, who were killed while in separate foster homes, and Ricky Holland, age 7, killed in 2005 by his foster-adoptive parents. The Free Press revealed numerous missteps by DHS, among others, that led to his death.

The state’s immediate concern is getting eligible children adopted, said DHS Deputy Director Kathryne O’Grady. Some have been cleared for a year or more, and they are looking for adoptive families. She said they are already addressing hiring issues and have asked the state Legislature for about $50 million to scrutinize their current needs and to begin implementing the program in 2009.

The reforms will be monitored by the four-member Public Catalyst Group, who helped overhaul the New Jersey foster care system after a similar lawsuit.

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What foster care agreement mandates

Under a class-action settlement approved Tuesday, Michigan's foster care system could be taken over by the federal government if the state Department of Human Services fails to implement several reforms over the next 5 years. The terms require the state to:

  • Create a specific children's services office to oversee foster care administration.
  • Create a 24-hour centralized hotline for calls about abuse and neglect.
  • Hire more foster care workers and caseworkers to reduce caseloads.
  • Reduce the amount of time between removing a child and either reunification or removing parental rights.
  • Reduce the amount of time between removing parental rights and adoption.
  • Register family members with DHS to receive support services for caring for a child.
  • Ensure better access to health care, including mental health; appoint a medical director for foster children; reduce the use of psychotropic medicines as discipline.
  • Recruit and retain more foster parents and adoptive families, and provide better oversight of foster homes.

first impression

I applaud Michigan DHS for reforming their organization, Looking at the number of abuse cases, Michigan is the worst performing state in the country, with Florida at a dishonorable second place, with in absolute numbers having even more abuse cases than Michigan, but being the larger state, its relative numbers are somewhat lower.

The reforms taking place worry me at the same time. One of those issues is: Reduce the amount of time between removing a child and either reunification or removing parental rights. The premise behind this idea is that foster care is a temporary arrangement and the shorter a child is in the foster care system the better. While that may sound good, it isn't necessarily so. This measure will certainly help reduce the number of atrocities in the Michigan foster care system. The shorter a child is in the system, the less chance something goes wrong within the system. So the measure will help the Michigan foster care system to look better, but is the child's best interest actually served? Especially in the light of another measure: Reduce the amount of time between removing parental rights and adoption, it seems the Michigan foster care system is trying to push out children as fast as they can. In the light of the Renee Bowman case,  it remains to be seen, if pushing the adoption agenda is not simply a measure to displace the problem instead of solving it.

On a more postive note, I am glad to see: reduce the use of psychotropic medicines as discipline, but at the same time I see a majorly overlooked opportunity: make every effort possible to reduce the number of children entering the system. I don't see any measure in this agreement that addresses the most fundamental issue: only children that really are in danger should enter the foster care system. You can't fix the system if you don't control the influx.

"Special Interests"

it seems the Michigan foster care system is trying to push out children as fast as they can. In the light of the Renee Bowman case,  it remains to be seen, if pushing the adoption agenda is not simply a measure to displace the problem instead of solving it.

I wonder if the logic behind adoption incentives/quotas is as simple as this:  push the adoption option so the higher costs go to the adoptive parents, not the state.

Meanwhile, I personally believe continuity of quality care is far more in the best interest of the child, regardless of "final" placement.  Common sense dictates, the less moves, the less trauma, the better.

"Reduce the amount of time

"Reduce the amount of time between removing a child and either reunification or removing parental rights."

That one disturbs me the worst... it will be abused as CPS is corrupt... but the government is worse...

These things said for reform is how Canada's CPS system is set up now... and well it made things worse...

The only way to stop the corruption is to make sure these secret family courts are no longer secret. and CPS is 100% accountable.... all deaths of children in government care reported and investigated publicly. all workers can be held accountable for their actions. And are not immune from civil court proceedings...

When you see those things implemented then you know they are serious about reform.. Until then... it will be different pile same shit.
 Don't think this billion dollar industry cares about children or the people they hurt or terrorize..(most psychopaths don't).. they care bout their pay checks an having supply of children to sell and buy. Cause in the end that is what the upper-class's CPS system is really all about.

"Re-educating the savages" the rich/government's own words... because poor people are not capable of raising their children....

This is all about discrimination and oppression... not child protection....

The minute you become rich you lose your humanity....

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