To help raise awareness this Child Abuse Prevention Month, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) unveiled its Keep Kids Safe Action Agenda on April 28. The agenda includes more than 20 protocols and policies to improve the safety and well-being of Michigan children.
The action agenda incorporates updates to the department’s work to keep Michigan kids safe. Developed over the course of more than four years, the agenda relies on best practices in child welfare and commits the department to the nation’s highest standards. The action agenda will evolve as new research and data is released to keep kids safe from harm.
“For each of the approximately 69,000 child abuse cases we investigate every year, MDHHS works diligently to protect and serve those children,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said. “When one child is exposed to abuse and neglect, we all suffer. That’s why the department is releasing a new action agenda: To keep kids safe and incorporate what we’ve learned as we all grow as advocates and fighters for Michigan’s children. The department and its child welfare partners owe it to every child and family in Michigan to do everything in our power to strengthen the safety net for children and families.”
The action agenda highlights the steps MDHHS has taken and will continue to take that can be separated into five categories – prevention, intervention, stability, wellness and workforce.
Actions in the agenda include:
- Investing millions of dollars to create more Family Resource Centers, allowing Michigan to become one of only five states to receive the Child Safety Forward grant from the federal Office of Victims of Crime. This project focuses on reducing and preventing child deaths that result from crime. The number of family resource centers recently expanded by five for a total of 11 in local communities.
- Family Resource Centers work with families that are at-risk of abuse and neglect to meet their needs sooner and strengthen their protective factors.
- Improving the process for handling reports of suspected child abuse and neglect to the state’s toll-free hotline – 855-444-3911 – by creating a structured decision-making tool that better guides hotline staff.
- Developing firearm safety protocols to provide guidance for child welfare staff to talk with families about firearm safety.
- That includes creating a website with information about where families can get free trigger locks and appropriating $2 million to support initiatives related to misuse of guns, including trigger locks and other available options.
- Expanding home visits by nurses and other professionals to proactively identify and help families who may benefit from better parenting strategies and coping skills.
- Piloting a vulnerable children protocol in various counties that provides additional safety reviews of cases in which the child has bruises and is too young to fully speak for himself or herself.
- Analyzing data in partnership with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago to determine which families are most at risk so the department can provide services sooner for the well-being of children.
- Securing approximately $50 million in prevention services annually to better serve at-risk families.
- Working with the State Legislature to make it easier for caregivers to determine whether another caregiver for their child is on the state’s Central Registry for child abuse and neglect. A new law, referred to as Wyatt’s Law, was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in May 2022.
- Developing an intervention tool that requires regular communication with caseworkers and their supervisors during key points of an investigation.
- Working with stakeholders and partners in the Legislature in supporting the child welfare system. MDHHS continues to identify policy changes to increase child safety. Some of these changes may include improved data sharing between behavioral health, substance use disorder service providers, domestic violence providers, and the child welfare system.
- Learning more from child deaths by participating in multi-disciplinary child death review teams that involve MDHHS, prosecutors, law enforcement, medical professionals and others.
- Establishing regional placement units that help identify appropriate living arrangements for youth to ensure they are in the most family-like settings or settings that can best meet their treatment needs.
- Creating the Bureau of Children’s Coordinated Health Policy & Supports within MDHHS to improve and build upon coordination and oversight of children’s behavioral health services and placement of children with complex needs.
- Creating an executive committee that provides support and accountability to service providers in the child welfare system that are not meeting expectations. This committee provides an opportunity for leaders in various administrations within MDHHS to holistically review the work of agencies and recommend interventions to ensure child safety.
- Holding child-caring facilities accountable and limiting the use of dangerous restraints across Michigan following the death of 16-year-old Cornelius Fredrick in a Kalamazoo facility after he was wrongfully restrained.
- Launching ChildStat, a quality improvement process to make systemic changes to the state’s child welfare system. ChildStat strategies include providing support for relatives so children can be placed with them instead of in group residential facilities.
- Increasing funding for stronger basic needs to ensure families have access to adequate food, housing and utilities.
- Increasing access to quality mental health services to help families meet their needs.
- Implementing a pilot project to work with local Community Mental Health agencies to connect families with mental health services as soon as children enter foster care.
- Implementing proven training practices known as motivational interviewing that provide all child welfare staff with enhanced engagement and assessment skills. Motivational Interviewing is a new technique to encourage more engaging questions and allow for enhanced information sharing with the family, which can help identify the appropriate services and support for the family. Forty-nine counties have been trained so far.
- Improving the quality of ongoing safety planning training for Children’s Protective Services workers and supervisors. Safety plans include actions that families and people who support them are willing to take to prevent or respond to child safety or risk issues.
- Developing an ongoing quality assurance unit focused on providing independent feedback to investigators to improve investigation quality.
- Improving safety in group residential facilities by:
- Developing the Residential Collaboration and Technical Assistance Unit.
- Partnering with the nationally recognized Building Bridges Initiative to provide training and technical assistance to congregate care providers to improve safety.
- Implementing weekly reviews of group residential facilities to assess safety and risk using data.
- Completing multiple real-time reviews of physical abuse cases to evaluate safety planning and ensure decision-making was appropriate.
“MDHHS demonstrates a strong commitment to data-driven decisions to help keep children safe and guide the development of services for families,” said Joseph P. Ryan, professor of social work at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and director of the Child and Adolescent Data Lab, an applied research center focused on using data to inform policy and practice in child welfare. “Department actions such as increasing the number of family resource centers that provide critical services to vulnerable families and expanding home visiting programs are examples of efforts that are evidence-based and designed to strengthen families and help protect children in Michigan.”