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Detroit — Michigan’s child-welfare agency will phase out a troubled computer system that has cost the state $231 million over the past five years, officials told a federal judge Thursday.

State child welfare officials announced the decision while briefing U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds on how the state is caring for children who were removed from homes due to abuse and neglect.

Edmunds heard from attorneys and the state welfare officials on improvements and progressas part of a court-oversight update in connection with a lawsuit brought by the New York-based Children's Rights child welfare rights organization 13 years ago.

Computers that caseworkers use to document cases and log intake of children as were highlighted as a major concern at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The computer system, which went online in 2014, has cost the state $231 million,

JooYeun Chang, the executive director of the state Children's Services Agency, told the judge the old computer system will be phased out and will be replaced by a newer one.

"We're going to build a new system one area at a time so that they make sure the new system works," Chang told Edmunds.

The judge told Chang: "I hope that can be accomplished quickly. This has been a hindrance (to the state's child welfare system)."

Chang told reporters following the hearing she expects a new system will be in place within five years.

Robert Gordon, director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said he will seek funding for the new system from the Michigan Legislature. He said half of the cost for the computer system is paid for by the federal government.

"We need to perform better as a department in the way we manage technology," Gordon said after the hearing. "We're focused on improving our performance."

Simple glitches such as having to input data multiple times are among the problems plaguing the system, said Gordon.

Replacing the troubled computer system is among the reforms MDHHS is pursuing to resolve the lawsuit, which was filed in August 2006 by Children's Rights to address concerns about the state's foster care system.

The lawsuit alleges that children's constitutional rights were being violated because the state failed to move them quickly into safe, stable permanent homes, provide them with medical services, and prepare youths who age out of foster care.

in addition, the state's child welfare system was poorly managed, underfunded and lacked sufficient staff, which further put children at risk of harm, according to the suit.

Chang told Edmunds the children's welfare agency is making changes that include helping relatives of children in the foster care system get licensed and become providers for the youths.

Other changes in the works: eliminating the state’s compliance reviews of cases up to two years old, focusing efforts to prevent child maltreatment on the activities most directly related to stopping it, and getting youth into effective programs, such as the Young Adult Voluntary Foster Care program.

Samantha Bartosz, the deputy director of litigation strategy for Children's Rights, told the judge she feels the group and the state have reached a "sound resolution" in moving forward on the issues that prompted the lawsuit.

"The modified approach will deliver sounds results for children," Bartosz said.

After the proceedings, she said the reforms reflected a more than decade-long struggle to have the system regulated to better serve children and protect them.

"There are safety regulations in the agreement now," Bartosz said. "They are committed to staying on top of important safety measures." 

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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