Detroit girl's death raises questions about state's child welfare system

Jan 1, 2013

The Martin Luther King apartments in Detroit, where the victim lived with her mother and siblings. Neighbors had repeatedly notified authorities about the mother's abusive behavior toward her children.
The Martin Luther King apartments in Detroit, where the victim lived with her mother and siblings. Neighbors had repeatedly notified authorities about the mother's abusive behavior toward her children.
Credit via Michigan State Housing Development Authority

A Detroit state representative says a child’s death this week raises serious questions about Michigan’s child welfare system.

Rashida Tlaib is calling for an investigation after a nine-year-old girl died Sunday at the Martin Luther King apartments on the city's east side.

The girl was stabbed in the chest. The Wayne County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide, and police have sought an arrest warrant for her mother.

Neighbors say they reported instances of child abuse and neglect in the home to the Michigan Department of Human Services numerous times. They wondered why the girl and her siblings weren’t removed from the home.

Michigan settled a federal class-action lawsuit in 2008 by agreeing to court oversight and a variety of reforms within its child welfare system. One required element of the settlement was that DHS improve its investigations of alleged child abuse and neglect and keep the children in its custody safer.

Tlaib says this incident raises serious concern about whether the settlement is working as intended.

“I don’t know if it’s working,” Tlaib said. “I don’t know if we’re making sure that we have experienced case workers, handling fewer cases, able to adequately provide protection for our children.”

Tlaib wants Governor Snyder and DHS Director Maura Corrigan to launch a thorough investigation into whether the state acted appropriately in this case.

“The neighbors did the right thing. They called the state and asked for help for the children,” Tlaib said. “It raises a lot of questions about why these children were not removed from the custody of their mother.”

Sandrew King, who lived in the same apartment complex as the girl’s family, said he was just one of many neighbors, school officials, and even family members who notified authorities about the mother’s abusive behavior.

“We called CPS and police to save those kids, and it didn’t work,” King said.

A DHS spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the case.