Michigan asks to be released from court-ordered monitoring of child welfare system


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DETROIT — After more than six years and millions of dollars, Michigan asked a judge Tuesday to end oversight of the state's child-welfare system, saying it has made "swift and steady" progress to improve child protection and get more kids into foster families.

The case should be closed, officials said, or the agreement at least should be modified because 79 percent of the goals have been met.

"It's time for the state child welfare experts who know how to best meet the needs of Michigan's children to have the freedom to make the decisions," said Maura Corrigan, director of the Department of Human Services. "There is no longer constitutional justification for the class-action child welfare litigation to continue."

Since 2008, the department has been under the eye of a court-appointed monitor to settle a sweeping lawsuit over a range of child-welfare issues, including foster care, child protection and health care. The agreement was rewritten in 2011 after the watchdog warned that the department was failing to comply under Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration.

The current governor, Rick Snyder, hired Corrigan, a Supreme Court justice, to run the department. She is stepping down this month after four years.

"The department's progress ... has been swift and steady," Special Assistant Attorney General John Bursch said in a court filing.

Michigan agreed to many changes, including hundreds of new hires to reduce the caseloads of workers who oversee children in foster care or protective services.

The state has paid more than $10 million to the monitoring team and lawyers from Children's Rights, which filed the lawsuit in 2006 on behalf of nearly 20,000 children. Millions more have been spent to follow the agreement.

"Going forward, every dollar spent on monitors and attorneys could be redirected toward hiring additional staff to further advance the (agreement's) remaining unmet goals, including the provision of prompt medical, dental, and mental health exams upon entering the system, relative licensing, visitation and the like," Bursch wrote.

Sara Bartosz, an attorney with New York-based Children's Rights, has praised the state's performance under Corrigan and Snyder. Nonetheless, she said she will oppose the request to end the agreement.

"Federal oversight must continue until the children of Michigan are safe. Anything short of this is unconscionable," Bartosz said in a statement.

Monitors from New Jersey-based Public Catalyst found many accomplishments in its latest report but also some areas of concern, especially children suffering abuse or neglect while living with relatives whose homes weren't licensed by the state.

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