After 11 years of reforms report finds problems persist in state child welfare system

Mar 15, 2019

State officials were in court on Wednesday responding to reports about ongoing problems with Michigan’s child welfare system.

Reforms have been underway since 2008. That’s when an advocacy group, Children’s Rights, settled a suit against the state alleging the child welfare system put kids at risk because of poor management and underfunding.

The latest monitoring report, which covers 2017, found that the state continued to fail on multiple court ordered benchmarks. One finding was that over 1,200 children experienced repeat incidences of abuse or neglect in 2017, an increase from the year before.

Bob Wheaton is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our Director Robert Gordon in court fully acknowledged that our department can and must do better by children and families that are involved in the state’s child welfare system.”

Wheaton said of particular concern were the findings that even children in the state’s foster care system were experiencing abuse. He said the state is already in the process of increasing oversight of abuse and neglect complaints.

A separate assessment of the state’s data system used to manage Michigan child welfare cases has found an “unmanageable backlog of defects.”

Among other findings the assmessent found that the Michigan Automated Child Welfare Information System, or MiSACWIS, led to the undercounting of children in foster care who were neglected or abused.

MiSACWIS has cost the state $231 million dollars since it went online in 2014. Officials say funding for the system came from both federal and state dollars. The program was implemented by the Michigan Department of Technology and Budget and a private vendor.

Wheaton said the department acknowledges problems with the system. A judge has given the state until June 27th to decide whether to scrap the system or try to salvage it.

“At this point it would be premature to say whether the solution is replacing the system or fixing the system. That’s what we’re going to be taking a look at.”

Wheaton added that the MiSACWIS is not the sole cause of the problems within the child welfare system.

Samantha Bartosz is the lead counsel representing Children’s Rights on the case. She said the state was making improvements but those seem to have stalled during the Snyder administration.

“The reform efforts started to go into a state of paralysis and even retreat. We see in this most recent monitoring report some difficult results for kids.”

But, Bartosz said she has met with the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services and she said they seem sincere about working to make improvements.