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Audit finds many Michigan child protection agency failures

September 6, 2018

DETROIT (AP) — A child welfare investigator in Michigan found evidence a male caretaker had sexually abused a child, and the child’s mother continued to allow the man — her live-in boyfriend — access to her children during the investigation.

State auditors say the investigator didn’t refer the case to a prosecutor or file a court petition, assessed far too low of a risk of future harm to the child and closed the investigation with no monitoring of the family afterward.

The case was among many highlighted in a scathing report released Thursday by the state Office of the Auditor General. The audit released of Michigan’s Children’s Protective Services cites numerous deficiencies in an overall system that has been under court oversight for a decade and cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The report found the agency failed to launch and complete investigations within required timeframes, and didn’t complete criminal history checks. Other deficiencies cited include: failing to complete face-to-face interactions with alleged child victims in a timely manner; not referring investigations to prosecutors; and not accurately assessing a child’s risk of harm.

The numerous failings were documented even though Michigan’s child welfare system has been under court oversight since 2008 — primarily relating to foster care but including children’s services agency. A New York group, Children’s Rights, filed a lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of nearly 20,000 children. Michigan agreed to make many changes, including hundreds of new hires to reduce caseloads of workers who oversee children in foster care or protective services. There are benchmarks for a variety of issues affecting children, from education to health care.

The agency agreed with most findings in the new report. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, of which CPS is part, said in a statement it takes the report “very seriously” and recognizes it “can and must improve.” The statement cites improvements already being made since it learned of the audit’s findings.

Still, Gov. Rick Snyder said in a separate statement that the findings “are unacceptable and we must to do more to accelerate the corrective actions.” He has assigned an executive in his administration to work with work with the department “in rooting out processes or practices that are standing in the way of excellent service.”

“While it is encouraging to see the Department of Health and Human Services working to correct many of the audit findings, we must do more and quickly,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich called it “heartbreaking” in a statement.

“These kids, who are already down on their luck, have been neglected by the very people tasked with their safety,” he said.

The audit, conducted between May 2014 and July 2016, included selecting representative samples of 160 CPS investigations from the 206,000 that the agency completed during that timeframe. Many of the findings were determined to be “material conditions,” which are considered more severe than reportable conditions and could impair effective operation of programs.

The department must submit a compliance plan within two months.

The cost to taxpayers of the court oversight has been substantial. As of last year, Michigan had paid $14 million to outside experts who track progress and flaws.

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This story has been corrected to show that the system has been under court oversight for 10 years, not 12.

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