MDHHS task force to examine foster care, juvenile justice

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — A new steering committee led by the Children’s Services Agency within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will examine foster care and juvenile justice placement practices in the state. 

The department announced discussions began Tuesday, tapping representatives from child care institutions, courts, advocacy groups and higher education. Parents and youth who have experienced care within the system are also providing feedback. 

The internal microscope comes after Cornelius Fredericks was wrongfully restrained by staff at Lakeside Academy in Kalamazoo at the end of April. His May 1 death was ruled a homicide.

An undated courtesy photo of Cornelius Fredericks.
An undated courtesy photo of Cornelius Fredericks.

Three of the 10 people fired after the incident have been charged with manslaughter and face prison time — though their attorneys say they followed protocol.

The state revoked Lakeside’s license. 

“This child’s tragic and unnecessary death created an urgency for reform and accelerated our efforts to improve the safety and quality of residential services provided to children,” JooYeun Chang, executive director of the Children’s Services Agency, which is responsible for the care and supervision of children in foster care, said in a press release.

“It’s important for us to hear the voices of everyone involved in the child welfare system, including stakeholders, courts, providers and the agency,” Chang’s statement continued. “But we want to make sure we are listening in particular to children who have experienced placement in a residential setting and their families.”

The task force approach to reform is also in response to recommendations from national experts, who delivered its findings to the state in July. The 839-page report summarizes six recommendations. The first is to immediately prohibit the use of restraints and phase out seclusion.

“The licensing regulations, while recently updated, require revamping to meet national norms and best practices and align with research on how to improve child outcomes and well-being. MDHHS licensing language on restraints and seclusions in particular, are loosely defined and subject to broad interpretation. This creates the potential for unacceptable and avoidable levels of risk to child safety,” the report states. 

The findings note recommendations should be implemented immediately, within six months or one year. 

“Michigan is fortunate to have many dedicated residential service providers who are eager and ready to help improve services to children and families through innovative and evidence-based practices,” Chang said in the announcement.

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