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Suit Against State Foster Care Delivers Another Blow

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John Wisely, February 12, 2008, Detroit Free Press

State record keeping is so shoddy and investigations are so superficial that children in Michigan's foster care system face continuing danger of physical abuse, according to a report compiled as part of a class action against the Michigan Department of Human Services.

The findings come in the latest in a series of reports compiled for Children's Rights, a national child-welfare advocacy group suing the state over the way it treats children in foster care. The suit is aimed at forcing the state to improve the system.

The most recent report, by John Goad, a child welfare official in Nevada who specializes in child abuse investigations, compared Michigan's child welfare managers to blindfolded bus drivers, oblivious to the dangers they pose.

"Children who are placed in the custody of" the Michigan DHS "because they were not safe with their families are highly likely to be in danger in the very foster care system intended to protect them," Goad wrote in his report.

State officials called the reports one-sided, noting the experts who compiled them have been hired to do similar reports in other lawsuits in other states.

"These reports that were authored by third parties selected and paid by Children's Rights lack balance, overstate and generalize findings from a biased, nonrepresentative sample of cases to support the Children's Rights agenda," DHS spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet said in a written statement.

"Although Children's Rights continues to attempt to litigate this case in the court of public opinion, DHS will appropriately reserve specific comments for the appropriate forum -- the court."

The federal lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in June in Detroit.

Sorbet said the state would consult its own experts to provide the court with a more balanced look at the system. She added that the state is hiring more caseworkers and making other improvements to the system.

In his report, Goad reviewed five cases during the past four years in which children died in foster care. The cases involve:

. A 2-year-old boy beaten and burned to death in a foster home that had been cited for maltreatment nine times before he was placed there.

. A 14-year-old girl diagnosed with depression who hanged herself in foster care after the state failed to address her mental health problems.

. A 15-month-old girl beaten to death while staying with her mother and grandparents in foster care after suffering previous abuse that resulted in a fractured skull and a burned foot.

. A 7-week-old boy who appeared to have suffocated from a pillow on an adult bed.

. A 3 1/2 -year-old boy who died of head injuries in the foster home of a woman found to have abused her own daughter the previous year.

"The system in Michigan is in dire need of reform," said Sara Bartosz, an attorney for Children's Rights.

"The holes have been known and outside experts have identified them."


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