A class of children in foster care custody in Michigan, represented by Children's Rights, filed this class action suit against the state of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on August 8, 2006. They alleged violations of the U.S. Constitution's First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments; federal law including the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. § 670 et seq.; and state law. The complaint alleged maltreatment and neglect of foster children in state custody, a lack of basic physical and mental health services for foster children, excessive lengths of stay in state custody, and frequent moves among multiple foster placements. The plaintiffs attributed these violations to a severe shortage of foster homes, high casework caseload, poor monitoring and planning of child services, and inadequate funding resources.
In November 2006, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, but the court denied the motion on April 11, 2007. Meanwhile, in February 2007, Judge Nancy G. Edmunds had certified the class of plaintiffs as children who are now or will be in the foster care custody of Michigan's DHS in in-home or out-of-home placements. The parties entered discovery, and in August 2007, the court appointed the Children's Research Center, a division of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, as an independent expert to report on the Michigan foster care system's case practice and compliance with standards.
After several months of vigorously contested discovery, the defendants again moved for partial dismissal, but subsequently withdrew the motions. The parties had attempted settlement negotiations between September 2006 and March 2007, prior to discovery. After extensive discovery, the parties engaged in a second round of settlement negotiations in early 2008. When the parties could not reach an agreement, the court finally set a trial date of July 7, 2008. The parties proposed a joint settlement agreement on July 3, 2008.
The settlement agreement established standards and outcome measures that the defendants must meet over a five-year implementation period under the supervision of an independent monitor who would review and report on the defendants' compliance with the settlement agreement. On October 24, 2008, the court approved the settlement agreement.
The Settlement Agreement provided for increased services for children in foster care; organizational changes in DHS; and increased training and supervision for caseworkers. The independent monitor provided reports on the state's compliance before the court every three months.
After election of a new Michigan governor in January 2011, who appointed new DHS management, the parties entered into discussions to update the original settlement agreement. On July 18, 2011, the court approved a modified settlement agreement (MSA). Monitoring has continued since the MSA was entered.
On December 30, 2014, the defendants moved to dissolve or modify the MSA. The defendants argued that, under Horne v. Flores, 557 U.S. 443 (2009), the consent decree should be vacated because plaintiffs could not prove that defendants were currently violating federal law in their administration of Michigan’s child welfare system. Nearly one month later, however, defendants withdrew their motion.
As of the date of this summary, monitoring continues.Elizabeth Homan - 12/20/2012
Dan Whitman - 11/29/2015