STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
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This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Are kids in the state's care safe? Court monitor says not safe enough.

Almost 14,000 kids in Michigan have been taken out of their own homes by the state because of an abuse or neglect allegation.

Those kids then rely upon the state's Department of Human Services (DHS) to keep them safe and put them in an environment where they have a chance to thrive. Most of those kids end up in foster care.

Six years ago the state was sued by the advocacy group Children's Rights over treatment of kids in its care.

The state was back in court today to see where things stand. Everyone agrees things have gotten better since the lawsuit started six years ago, but the court appointed monitor said too many kids are still unsafe.In its original settlement with Children's Rights, the state said they would make improvements to their system. At that time, under Governor Granholm, the complaint against the state alleged that caseworkers had more work than they could handle, and the state wasn't helping kids to find permanent, loving families.

More than 30 percent of kids were withering in the system until they just got too old for foster care, or "aged out" of the system.

Sara Bartosz is the lead attorney on the case for Children's Rights. She says that under the Snyder administration the state has made a lot of progress - progress that wasn't being made under the Granholm administration.

"Things are moving in a positive direction," Bartosz says. "But again, you can't be satisfied until kids are basically safe and their well-being is being assured. And so there are areas where this team, with all the hard work they're doing, needs to focus even more energy."

And Bartosz says there are a lot of things the state has to have in order to protect kids, including money and good management.

"This lawsuit is about focusing on solid structures, solid policy, right leadership, right re-sourcing," she said.

The court appointed monitor says the state has done a good job lately collecting tips on abuse and neglect, moving kids out of foster care more quickly, and improving health care for kids in the system.

But the state is still falling short on goals they agreed to in the court's new settlement agreement for keeping kids safe.

The court monitors say the state needs to make sure fewer kids are abused and neglected in foster care.

This includes making sure case workers visit kids in foster care more often.

The state agreed kids in their first month of foster care need two visits by a case worker to make sure they are safe and okay.

Now, almost half the kids in their first month of foster aren't getting those visits the need. More than a quarter of the kids in the whole system aren't even being visited once a month.

Under the court's settlement agreement the court appointed monitor will continue to check up and report on the state's progress for a few more years. The next report will likely be released in the next six to nine months.

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