Ten years ago Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services settled a federal lawsuit, and promised to overhaul their system. More staff, more effective trainings, greater resources. It was going to be better. The system put in place to protect Michigan’s kids was going to improve. And here we are, a decade later, and the system is anything but better. In fact, if statistics are anything to go on, it’s probably worse!
What the heck is going on at MDHHS?
In 2008, the year Michigan settled the lawsuit, there were 59 child deaths that resulted from abuse or neglect. Since then, Michigan has doubled the Children Services Agency budget, and made significant increases to staffing. And yet in 2016, which is the most recent year of data available, the number of child deaths from abuse or neglect has risen to 85. How is that even possible?
That same year, the Michigan Office of the Children’s Ombudsman opened investigations into more deaths of foster children, and children whose parents had been given “services” by CPS, than ever before. And yet, when all the cases had been reviewed, the ombudsman claimed that MDHHS had done everything correctly. Protocol had been followed, and no red flags were found. So what’s going on?
Is CPS aware of it’s growing problem?
In response to the rising child death rates, MDHHS commissioned a study of its foster care programs in 2015. The findings were interests. For example, the turnover rate for foster care workers was more than 16%. Compare that to the less than 10% turnover rate in all other state government jobs, and it speaks volumes. So maybe the problem has something to do with the number of inexperienced workers on the job?
Michigan spends one and a half million dollars training CPS workers every year. That includes training new workers, and providing continued education for existing workers. Which is a small fortune. So why do they have such an issue with maintaining staff? Is the work too hard? Or the caseload too demanding? Apparently. According to their own study, the ever-increasing workload is a constant burden on CPS workers, who struggle to effectively meet the needs of Michigan’s children.
So can the issue be fixed? Is there a solution?
Funding is almost always always an issue for government agencies. But in this case, the issues are obviously much more severe than a lack of cash flow. After all, the state threw millions into the overhaul of CPS and the problems haven’t got any better. If anything, they’re worse. So what other solutions could help the state address this tragic issue, whose rising cost in children’s lives is only getting worse?
There have been many suggestions over the years for how CPS could address it’s issues. In a recent Lansing State Journal editorial, Adre Brown, a former Ingham County CPS caseworker, says that in his experience the biggest issue was training. None of what he learned in training was relevant to the cases he managed, Brown says. So one suggestion might be to overhaul the training that CPS workers receive in order to better prepare them for what they’ll encounter in the field.
The truth about Michigan’s CPS
The reality is that there probably isn’t a single answer to CPS’s problems. No one-size-fits-all solution to the issues they face. Better trainings for workers is likely only one part of the whole. Perhaps more focus on keeping families together whenever possible, instead of removing kids from their homes. And providing better support services to families in need. There are many possible solutions. Chances are, all of them have some merit.
In truth, CPS isn’t to blame for children who die as a result of abuse and neglect. That blame lies firmly on the shoulders of the parents and caregivers who fail them. However, that fact doesn’t help the many others, loving parents who get caught up in the tangle, and falsely accused of crimes they didn’t commit. Accusations that sometimes cost them their children, and decimate their lives. For those of you in a desperate situation, we are here to help.