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MDHHS releases new rules to stop dangerous restraint usage in youth facilities, reform to improve child welfare system

Posted at 1:05 PM, Jul 16, 2020

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is introducing new rules to help reform the state’s child welfare system to better protect the safety and well-being of youth in foster care.

MDHHS announced on Thursday emergency rules for restricting dangerous restraints of children in child-caring institutions.

“Protecting our most vulnerable populations, whether it’s during a global pandemic or not, is a top priority for me,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Stepping up our efforts to protect kids in foster care will help us ensure all children in our state are treated with humanity and respect. I will continue to work closely with Director Gordon and everyone else who wants to ensure Michigan kids have the care and support they need in foster care.”

Along with the new rules, the department released recommendations from national experts. Departmental action resulted from the May 1 death of a 16-year-old child after he was wrongly and improperly physically restrained by staff at Lakeside for Children in Kalamazoo, MI.

MDHHS has since terminated its contracts with Lakeside and suspended Lakeside’s license. The Lakeside youth who died was restrained by staff for 12 minutes for throwing food; there is video proof of staff members laying across the youth victim’s upper torso.

“Restricting restraints is an important step, but the ultimate goal is to reform the system so young people get the care they deserve,” Director Gordon said. “The best way to improve is to learn from best practices around the country, and so I am grateful to our national partners for sharing their advice. We are listening with care.”

JooYeun Chang, executive director of MDHHS’s Children’s Services Agency, said that reform is urgent and necessary.

“Over the last year, MDHHS has expanded its prevention efforts to reduce the need for placing children in foster care,” Chang said. “Children should be raised by families. When foster care is absolutely necessary to keep kids safe, we have worked to place more children in family-like settings rather than in residential facilities. If we must place children in child-caring institutions, it should be for therapeutic purposes to meet the child’s individual needs, and it should be for a limited amount of time. Using restraints is not a therapeutic or caring way to address behavioral issues. It’s been overused, and it can be dangerous. That is why our goal is to eliminate this practice and put restrictions in place until we can do so.”

Rules prohibit the usage of particularly dangerous prone restraints – which involve placing children face-down while they are being restrained – and any other restraint that restricts breathing.

Recommendations released on Thursday are from three child welfare organizations, led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in partnership with Casey Family Programs and the Building Bridges Initiative.

Another area of concern MDHHS is working to address is the over-representation of children of color in child-caring institutions.

“National data show that teenagers of color are much more likely than other children to be placed in institutions and group settings when they enter foster care,” said Sandra Gasca-Gonzalez, vice president for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Center for Systems Innovation. “It is time to walk away from outdated child welfare practices that force children and young people to grow up in facilities. Systems must move with urgency to embrace safe, equitable, family-focused approaches so young people thrive.”

The MDHHS emergency rules can be found here.

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