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Monday, November 26, 2007

Child Protection Task Force Hearing – State Capitol, Lansing

Chairman Law – Introduction


• Thanks for coming. We’re here today . . . children should not be left unprotected. Abuse
and neglect is the number one goal of this task force. We are doing a task force in lieu of
the former committee which has not been reconvened. I asked the Speaker of the House
in the beginning of the year and unfortunately, it has not been answered – 11 months is
too long. We are working in a bi-partisan fashion but are unwilling to wait any longer.
We must meet the needs of the vulnerable families and children in Michigan. Despite all
the resources put into children’s care, the system has failed. Names we need to
remember – Issac Lethbridge, Allison Newman, et al. While no system can ever be
perfect, we can and we must do better here in the state of Michigan. We are honored to
have one of Michigan’s best advocates, Justice Maura Corrigan.

Justice Corrigan
• Thank you for inviting me to speak with you this morning – I am the Michigan Supreme
Court Justice that has responsibilities for child welfare. I want it to be clear that I am not
speaking on behalf of the Supreme Court this morning, but as a concerned public official.
• Improvements that we have made have evolved throughout child care professionals.
Ruthman, Wing, staff in family services division of the court who has helped me to
prepare for this occasion.
• Children who die in state care – “There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child.”
(Quoting Dwight D. Eisenhhower). I am seeking your support for a more effective
response to children who die in state care. Not just foster care, but children who die after
they are under court jurisdiction, and children who die within Child Protective Services.
The crisis is because the deaths are preventable. We cannot retain reliable info on what is
happening and why – every year children die from abuse and neglect (named Lethbridge,
Bradley) – these were preventable deaths. 12 days before Lethbridge died he was seen by
service workers who notice his bruises and failed to report. There are many other less
media worthy cases – children who died from cancer b/c state did not approve chemo
therapy in time (excuse was that they did not have consent) – Under MI, these are not
“medical emergency.” Get a law passed that allows foster parents to make a non-
emergency decision about children’s care.
• First obstacle: Absence of reliable information. We have discovered that it is nearly
impossible to find cohesive data on children that died in state care. The data varies. In
MI they are reported by the Dept. of Community Health, Children’s Services,
Ombudsman, and national group – children’s comp. Age categories – stats do not match.
There is no clear conclusion
o ***Recommends that state establishes single comprehensive source of info for
children deaths. We need reliable info on how many children die overall and how
many died in state care. Ombudsman has statutory authority to review facts and
circumstances that surround child’s death and he can act on a complaint or inquiry
on her own. There is no requirement to notify the ombudsman when children die
in state care. She usually finds this out by reading the newspaper.
o ***DHS needs to notify the ombudsman immediately. This is the same for (me)
and other justices on the supreme court. They all share concurrent responsibility
– we need to communicate better and the law should permit us to do so.
o ***“Silo effect” – Lack of communications between divisions. Currently we have
5 avenues of review:
 (1) office of child protective services within DHS,
 (2) ombudsman,
 (3) state and local child death review teams who review them throughout
MI,
 (4) legislature – authorized to conduct a close session,
 (5) DHS family advocate, Steve Jager. Each collects important data but
we have no statutory framework that collaborates them. None of us can
fill our responsibility to children if we do not work together.
o ***We also need an investigative oversight body – this would be functioned like
the federal reserve (removed from partisan political process). There must be a
government oversight body that recommends what needs to be done and
permitted to release its report without restraint by the executive, judicial, or
legislative branch.
o ***Gap in child protective issues – involvement of the judicial body. There are
no judges serving on the death review teams. This is serious impediment to
progress in our state. The goal is the prevention of child deaths – if somebody
could have reasonably done something to prevent. Children in state care are
usually not under protection by the court. Involve the judicial branch in every
child death review. We should add judges to the state and local child death
review teams. Pleased to report that our family services division now has a child
death review team including the judicial branch. *Legislature should let the
ombudsman to share info with this committee. Right now the ombudsman works
almost exclusively with DHS.
• SUMMARY:
o (1) Independent oversight body focused on the problem of children dying in state
care – should have access to info collected on child deaths. Function should be to
make recommendations for prevention, etc.
o (2) Singe repository of information on children who die in state care: foster care,
under court jurisdiction, and under child protective services.
o (3) Increase collaboration among the agencies. Law requiring DHS to notify
child ombudsman immediately upon the death of a child
o (4) Judiciary needs to be at the child death review table – judges should be added
to state and local review teams.
• Thanks for investigating this issue. Mentions article in the Detroit News – discussing the
needs for national standards for baby deaths. (7.1% rate in MI) I look forward to
developing solutions with you.

Questions
Law: Investigative oversight body – what do you envision the makeup looking like?

Corrigan: Child welfare professionals, medical examiners, prosecutors, judges. The problem is
getting a hold on data.

Law: What do you think the data would show?

Corrigan: High drama news stories…but there were roughly 58 deaths. We are not counting the
ones where the court closed the case and the child died because they were no longer under court
jurisdiction.

Opsommer: Judicial review team – I was not aware that they were not involved. What is the
best solution – Have a separate judicial review team?

Corrigan: Both – independent and collaborative. These teams review in a confidential fashion
so you cannot share info that you learn at them. My greatest desire was to go back and share
info with other judges…right now we cannot do that. We need to be able to work with local trial
judges.

Shaffer: Reminisce ideas they had with Sen. Hardiman. In the context of research – are there
any states that have looked at this?

Corrigan: I would be happy to share the information I’ve found. Interns have found that the
state of CO have done a tremendous job. Theresa Covington (National Operation) – she lives in
Okemos. She may be a great witness to this committee.

Emmons: Failure to report physical abuse. Can you comment as to why this may occur?

Corrigan: Not aware why this would not be reported. Confidentiality issues so we rely on
newspaper reports. There is a duty to report criminal status but I am not in a position to report
that information.

Law: What led you to be such an advocate?

Corrigan: I had the privilege to serve as chief justice, where I worked with the foster care review
board (150 volunteers). They issue an annual report which lays out the tragedies that occur in
foster care. They monitor 1,200 cases per year and make recommendations about what we need
to fix. Too often their recommendations are not heard. We are capable of making repairs and
improvements. We launched an initiative to find children who go missing – we are now locating
85% of the children who go missing (300 kids per month). This was done by cooperation – the
same results could be found by following example of sharing information.

Law: Heather Kish may have led you to get involved.


Corrigan: Absolutely. I am not doing this by myself. There are wonderful staff and people
engaged in this work and we have set up good systems put into place. We are not doing this very
organized across the country and we have a good possibility to do it within the three branches in
MI and be a model for the country.

Law: Special committee last year. Should privatization be looked at?

Corrigan: I have avoided getting into this debate but instead find ways to reach consensus and
avoid political debates.
Law: Accountability – do you feel there is accountability built in or are there steps to take to
improve?

Corrigan: Building accountability is the retention of a quality workforce. Some think that
retaining qualified workers is the single largest problem in protecting children in the United
States. You cannot hope to build in accountability without quality people. Pay masters level
workers masters level pay. I am not here to run the DHS…

Law: We’ve learned that there is a retention problem in the CP Cmte.

Opsommer: Have you had a chance to look at what may be a better ration of foster care workers
to children?

Corrigan: Child Welfare Legal America – has good stats. Indiana just passed statutes that
mandates caseload limits.

Opsommer: Gratiot County foster care workers are much lower – I was surprised

Corrigan: Most recent budget, DHS will be getting additional 190 or so workers in the area of
foster care. We still have a ways to go to make sure that caseloads are adequate.

Law: Thank you for coming. I don’t want this task force to be taken as attacking DHS. We
believe that people who work there have children’s best interest in their heart. We are hoping to
work together to fix the problems. Adjourned.