Michigan to pull plug on child-welfare computer system

Posted at 9:44 AM, Jun 29, 2019

The state of Michigan will pull the plug on a multimillion-dollar computer system whose poor performance has made it difficult to track progress in a yearslong effort to improve services to children in foster care, officials said Thursday.

The head of the Department of Health and Human Services didn't disclose the new system's anticipated price, which would be shared by state and federal governments. But Robert Gordon told reporters that it will be a "significant cost."

The current system, called MiSACWIS, was rolled out in 2014 and has cost more than $200 million to build and service. In March, U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds told Gordon to come up with a solution after an expert reported an "unmanageable backlog of defects, incidents, and data fixes" that might never end.

The network is used by thousands of people in all 83 counties, including child welfare workers and foster care contractors.

Michigan's child welfare system has been under court oversight for more than a decade after being sued in 2006. The state was accused of putting troubled kids at further risk by assigning them to unfit foster families or group homes, among other allegations. Monitors appointed by Edmunds have noted progress, but the finish line isn't in sight yet.

JooYeun Chang, the new director of the Children's Services Agency, said the switch to a new computer system will be gradual and could last four to five years.

MiSACWIS "is an outdated system. ... It is very burdensome for case workers. Minor errors can result in major problems," Gordon said outside court.

Separately, the state and Children's Rights, a watchdog group that sued to force changes in child welfare services, presented a new compliance plan to the judge. They agreed to drop a requirement that relatives be licensed if they take in a child and become foster parents.

Chang said the homes still would be inspected for safety and other requirements.

"They can say, 'This home is unsuitable.' They can demand certain things be done," said Samantha Bartosz, a lawyer with Children's Rights.