Watchdog to lead review of Michigan's child welfare system
By JEFF KAROUB
DETROIT — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder appointed the director of an agency that serves as a watchdog of the state’s child welfare system to lead a review after a scathing audit of Children’s Protective Services, the administration announced Tuesday.
Snyder selected Orlene Hawks to lead the review and improvement process of CPS after last week’s state Office of the Auditor General report . It found many deficiencies, including failing to launch and complete investigations on time, and not referring investigations to prosecutors or accurately assessing a child’s risk of harm.
Michigan’s child welfare system has been under court oversight for a decade, and the cost has been substantial. As of last year, Michigan had paid $14 million to outside experts who track progress and flaws.
Hawks will take a leave from the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman during the review. Snyder said he expects Hawks will find ways to rapidly improve the program.
Hawks’ office independently investigates complaints about children involved in the state’s child welfare system because of abuse or neglect issues. Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said Hawks will have expanded authority in her new role.
“Orlene will have greater scope and freedom to investigate processes … and coordinate improvements than she had as the Children’s Ombudsman,” Adler wrote in an email. “She also will have the benefit of a team of specialists from different departments and the full backing of the Governor’s Office to ensure that what needs to be done will be discovered and getting it done will happen expeditiously. The Ombudsman office is complaint-driven with authority only to advocate and make recommendations to fix the system. Orlene and her team will have greater scope and some decision-making authority.”
The audit, conducted between May 2014 and July 2016, included selecting representative samples of 160 CPS investigations from the 206,000 that the agency completed during that time frame. Many of the findings were determined to be “material conditions,” which are considered more severe than reportable conditions and could impair effective operation of programs.
The department must submit a compliance plan within two months.