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Class-action lawsuit settlement means Mich. to enforce stricter rules.
Paul Egan / The Detroit News
DETROIT -- A court-appointed monitor will oversee what a federal judge on Tuesday described as a historic agreement to improve the health and safety of Michigan's 19,000 foster children.
The deal approved by U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds ends a class-action lawsuit brought in 2006 by Children's Rights, a national advocacy group based in New York, alleging Michigan's foster care system was broken and harming kids.
It also could mean $50 million a year in additional costs for cash-strapped Michigan's Department of Human Services.
The settlement is a tacit admission of failings in the state's child protection system that were highlighted through the well-publicized deaths in 2005 and 2006 of three children in foster care -- Ricky Holland of Williamston, Isaac Lethbridge of Detroit, and Allison Newman of Canton.
The settlement requires the state to hire 200 to 300 "planning specialists" and clear backlogs in the licensing of foster care homes and the permanent adoption of children, among other reforms. It requires the establishment of a 24-hour centralized hot line for the reporting of suspected child abuse to replace the present system, under which reporting is made at the county level. And it sets 15 as the maximum case load for foster care workers, who in some cases today have 30 to 40 foster children to check on.
Edmunds, who will keep jurisdiction over the case, named former New Jersey Child Advocate Kevin M. Ryan as a monitor, who will file twice-yearly reports and try to assure the state makes the promised reforms.
"I congratulate both sides on having reached a historic and ... a very fine agreement," Edmunds told lawyers in the case.
Kathryne O'Grady, a deputy director of the department who will head the new Children's Services Administration required under the settlement, said most of the reforms reflect changes the department was already planning to make.
"The department knew from the beginning that we had to make substantial changes," O'Grady said. "The department is really excited to get moving on these changes."
O'Grady, who said the department also will hire about 200 more foster care workers in addition to the planning specialists, could provide no firm cost to implement the changes. She said the Legislature appropriated an extra $27.5 million for 2007-08 and another $20-25 million in state money is being looked at for 2008-09.
Though times are tough, legislators know the money is needed, she said.
Jack Kresnak, president and CEO of the advocacy group Michigan's Children, said departmental and other estimates he has seen peg the cost of the reforms at $50 million a year over the next five years, compared to over $100 million a year if the plaintiffs had received everything they wanted.
"Ensuring the safety of Michigan's most vulnerable children cannot be done on the cheap," Kresnak said. The settlement "is more than likely going to prevent some tragic deaths."
A federal monitor is the same solution a judge ordered in 2003 to fix longstanding problems of police brutality and dismal holding cell conditions at the Detroit Police Department. That work continues.
Edmunds said she will enter the final order formalizing the settlement Oct. 24.
Link with MUCH MORE -
State's foster system gets fed monitor The Detroit News detnews.com
My two cents - this is a great beginning .. and needs to be implemented in EVERY STATE!