Michigan House OKs bills aiming to better child-abuse probes

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan's child-welfare law would be updated to clarify that caseworkers must make contact within 24 hours to assess the well-being of each child in a household where abuse or neglect is suspected under a bill approved Thursday by the state House.

The measure and others were passed in response to a scathing 2018 audit that found many failures in Children's Protective Services investigations. The bills were backed with overwhelming bipartisan support and sent to the Senate for future consideration.

The audit said workers did not appropriately commence 17% of reviewed investigations within 24 hours of receiving a complaint, as required by law. At the time, the state Department of Health and Human Services had a different interpretation of the 24-hour rule, including whether it required face-to-face contact and an assessment of all kids in a household.

Auditors felt the interpretation conflicted with the law's intent.

The state now has 24 hours to notify law enforcement if child abuse results in a death or severe physical injury, or there is suspected sexual abuse. Otherwise, CPS must commence an investigation within 24 hours.

The legislation would clarify that an investigation could not be considered to have been started until the state makes “contact that provides information on the well-being of each child in the household where a child is suspected of being abused or neglected.”

“What happens in that first 24 hours is critical,” said the sponsor, Republican Rep. Matt Hall of Marshall. “It's not enough to simply open a case file. When time is of the essence, looking into the safety of children must be the priority.”

The bill is among six that were written to address some, but not all, of the audit's findings. Another measure would codify caseworkers' ability to do an abbreviated investigation when no abuse or neglect has occurred, as long as a manager reviews it before the case is closed.

A separate bill is aimed at ensuring that certain cases could not be closed until the state confirms that a family is participating in services such as counseling or parenting classes. Lawmakers also voted to require annual reviews on whether counties have standard child abuse and neglect investigation protocols, and to mandate that the state report certain child-welfare investigation data to the Legislature quarterly.

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