Michigan House Republicans
COLUMN: Child welfare has reached critical point at Michigan juvenile centers
RELEASE|April 30, 2024

The following column was published by the Detroit News on Thursday, April 25

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. It emphasizes the health, safety and welfare of young people, and champions various local programs and services that work to prevent child abuse and neglect.

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and members of her administration bring awareness to this critical issue, the state is actively and profoundly failing to shine sufficient light on allegations of abuse and neglect of juveniles in its care or the care of counties throughout Michigan.

A recent Detroit News report detailed issues involving misconduct at the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility over the past year. Of the 60 violations found by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) at the facility, 50 involved staff errors. These missteps included a staff member slamming a child’s head onto a table, an hours-long delay in getting a child needed medical attention and staff allowing children to watch pornography that was running on a television instead of properly intervening.

DHHS noted that many of the issues are repeat violations. This troubling and graphic report is one of many I have seen and heard about since I began in the Legislature last January. Earlier this year, I met with Jami Vaughn, whose 10-year-old son was seen on surveillance video being assaulted at the state-run Walter P. Reuther Psychiatric Hospital in Westland. Jami has called for accountability after her son was traumatically failed by staff at the facility. She wants to share her story with leaders and elected officials in our state in hopes that other children will not be failed like her son was.

As a member of the House Families, Children and Seniors committee, the House Health Policy committee and the House Health Policy subcommittee on Behavioral Health, I have consistently called on any and all relevant committees in the Legislature to address these concerns, complaints and allegations. There has been an alarming hesitancy to provide the many impacted people and families with a platform to discuss these issues and seek solutions. Even with a 54-54 shared power split in the House the past several months, ensuring our juvenile care and detention centers were taking needed steps to keep children safe and delivering proper oversight should have been a bipartisan focus.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

I am pleased the nonpartisan state Office of the Auditor General (OAG) announced it will look into allegations and procedures at state-run psychiatric hospitals as part of its audit cycle for 2024. After a listening tour I attended last summer where impacted individuals and families bravely shared their stories with me, I joined other legislators in sending a letter to the OAG urging for a review.

But we also have the power and responsibility to examine this issue further legislatively while a formal audit takes shape. What level of staffing would be adequate at these facilities? Are staff being given the resources they need so these issues can be better addressed?

This involves the well-being of children and families. These are questions that need to be answered and this is a conversation worth having. When state-run facilities or programs encounter problems, they need to be state priorities.

No child should be subjected to the physical and psychological mistreatment that has been laid out in these reports. No parent should have to endure the pain of these alleged actions. As a mother, I am shocked by each new disclosure of mistreatment. It’s a problem that isn’t going away, and the state needs a more pressing strategy for this inconvenient truth.

Michigan House Republicans

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