LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Eighteen months after Target 8 exposed a gap in Michigan’s child death reporting system, a state audit is demanding a fix.
A report released Tuesday by Michigan’s Auditor General found Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services failed to notify a watchdog promptly of 206 child deaths from 2014 through 2017.
That watchdog, the Office of Children’s Ombudsman, is an independent agency mandated by state law to review the deaths of children who have had recent contact with Michigan’s foster care, child welfare or child protection system. The goal is to identify if Children’s Protective Services caseworkers failed to follow policy or could have done things differently to better protect the child.
But the ombudsman can’t conduct those reviews if MDHHS fails to notify the watchdog of qualifying deaths.
“It’s certainly a huge concern that these child death alerts were missed because it’s important that we’re the oversight for (CPS within MDHHS),” said Lisa McCormick, the recently appointed head off the Office of Children’s Ombudsman.
McCormick stressed the OCO ultimately did receive and review all of the unreported death cases.
“There were 206 cases that we went back and reviewed, but the important thing to note is that we did review them, and that MDHHS came to the table and they worked with us to make sure we were getting all the cases,” she said.
In recent years, on average, the ombudsman received 267 child death alerts annually.
The 206 missed alerts comprised 20% of the total death cases reported over a four-year period.
The audit also urged the ombudsman to find ways to independently identify child deaths that require OCO reviews.
“The auditors made a valid point, which is why we have auditors to improve our procedures, to tell us this is a deficit, this is a hole that’s missing, let’s address it and move forward,” McCormick said.