The Michigan Human Services Department said Tuesday that a federal monitors' report shows improvements in the state's child welfare system, while a group that sued the state says the agency "is still struggling in its most crucial mission."
The court-appointed monitors report shows that the agency is meeting and exceeding caseload standards, the department said. It said the report also credits the agency with ensuring timely health and dental exams.
Human Services Director Maura Corrigan said a number of problems cited in the report have already been remedied.
"We have made a strong effort to meet the standards as laid out in this report," Corrigan said in a statement. "We are also doing standout work with our partners in areas not directly reflected by this or other ... reports, as we continue critical reform of child welfare in Michigan."
Monitors found need for improvement in compliance in relative care, child placement, and worker and child visitation.
The state's child welfare system came under federal oversight in 2008 after a suit by New York-based Children's Rights Inc. The monitors' report filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit is the third under a settlement and covers July 1-Dec. 31, 2012.
"Michigan is 5 years into a court-ordered reform of its foster care system, but the state's Department of Human Services ... is still struggling in its most crucial mission - to protect kids from abuse and neglect," Children's Rights said in a statement.
A lot of work remains to bring Michigan's child welfare program into compliance with the agreement, said Children's Rights chief lawyer Sara Bartosz.
"Strides have been made is some areas, but the sober truth is that far too many kids are victims of abuse, neglect and other harms in DHS care," said Bartosz. "It is vital that DHS leadership redoubles its efforts to mend the holes in the state's child welfare safety net."
Among the deficiencies that the group highlighted was that 180 children were abused or neglected while in foster care during the six months covered by the report and half of the 4,505 children in foster care with relatives were in homes that weren't licensed.
"Plenty of work remains to be done before the state has fulfilled its commitment to kids. Importantly, the consent decree not only calls for improvements to be made, it also requires those improvements to be sustained," said Bartosz. "It is crucial for everyone to stay the course, however long that takes."