Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Foster care in Michigan: Corrigan sends the b.s. meter off the scale

Looks like Detroit television station WXYZ’s expose of the way child welfare really works in Michigan, and/or yesterday’s post to this Blog really rattled Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan.  Because she’s got an op ed column in the Free Press today that sends the b.s. meter off the scale.    

But the column does illustrate how Corrigan, a former state supreme court justice, rose so far in the legal profession.  What becomes immediately clear if you read the piece closely is the weasel-wording.

Corrigan says DHS workers can’t take children on their own authority.  But look closely.  Then she says law enforcement can take children on their own authority – but they only do it in “emergencies.” So what Corrigan really is saying is: DHS workers can't remove children on their own.  But they can call the police and have the police do it for them. 

Then, Corrigan says, child protective services "still must obtain a court order before accepting the child from law enforcement..."  And where is the child during this process?  Already in foster care, of course.  You can bet it makes very little difference to the child that the person keeping him away from everyone he knows and loves is a cop, rather than a social worker.

So Corrigan's legal hair-splitting notwithstanding, DHS workers can and do remove children on their own authority,.

And if children are removed this way only in emergencies, please explain, ex-justice Corrigan: How did Leo Ratte, the boy in the Mike's Hard Lemonade case ever wind up in foster care?  (If anyone isn’t familiar with that case, it’s discussed in detail in the Channel 7 story.)

Corrigan then claims that “both the parents and the child are represented by an attorney before the judge when the case is being weighed.”

Leaving aside the wretched quality of much of what passes for defense counsel for parents in Michigan, something documented in detail in the first of our reports on Michigan child welfare, even at face value this is grossly misleading.  This time the weasel words are “when the case is being weighed” – because often that’s after the child already has been removed.

For example: what lawyer represented Maryanne Godboldo, or her daughter, before DHS came to take the child away?  The answer, of course, is no lawyer.  DHS went to court by itself (the legal term is ex parte) and got the court order without Godboldo ever having a chance to tell her side of the story.

Corrigan even tried to hide behind vulnerable children to defend her agency’s routine stonewalling when journalists try to hold DHS accountable.  Oh, we’d really, truly like to tell our side of the story, she suggests - and we’re always right - but we just can’t because it would invade the privacy of those poor children.

But several states have laws allowing their child welfare agencies to tell their side of the story when cases already have become public.  I'm sure the Michigan Legislature would consider passing similar legislation if Corrigan asked for it.  But she almost certainly won't.  Child welfare agencies love these laws since they allow them to cover up their mistakes.

Still, at least this sets me straight on one point concerning Corrigan: I thought she was a law-and-order conservative.  But over and over in her op ed column, when it comes to her own agency’s blunders, she tries to get the agency off on a technicality.