Supreme Court Judge to Lead Michigan Child Welfare Reform

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) today named Michigan Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan to lead his embattled Department of Human Services. Corrigan is the second state supreme court justice tapped to lead a child welfare agency since the November elections.

Corrigan has served on the state supreme court since 1999, and she served as chief judge from 2001 to 2005.

Snyder called Corrigan “a true champion of children and families” who had an “outstanding track record” as an advocate for needy children during her tenure on the court. She was elected to the court in 1998 and re-elected in 2006.

Kevin Ryan, CEO of Covenant House and the court-appointed monitor of the settlement Michigan reached with child welfare reform litigator Children’s Rights, supported the choice.

"Advocates across the state view her as a deeply committed champion for children,” Ryan said in an e-mail to Youth Today. “She and her team clearly understand the many problems in this system, and no one wants change more than them.”

Late last year, Ryan and his monitoring team laid harsh criticism on former DHS Director Ismael Ahmed for the slow progress on reforms since the Children’s Rights lawsuit was settled. (Click here for more on that).

Both Snyder and Corrigan said the top priority of DHS will be to address issues related to the federal court consent decree mandating improvements in Michigan’s foster care system.

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform voiced concern over Snyder’s pick, citing Corrigan’s focus on adoption and lack of attention to family reunification.

Wexler said he had heard from stakeholders in Michigan that Corrigan’s views on child welfare have matured and evolved.

“I hope … they’re right,” he said. “The good news is in Michigan, [the] bar is so low, [it] would take very little to be an improvement in terms of leadership.

Snyder is the second governor since the November elections who looked to his state’s supreme court for a child welfare leader. New Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy (D) named Joette Katz to lead the state Department of Children and Families, which also oversees juvenile justice.

Snyder did not name a replacement for Corrigan, but said he will do so before she officially departs the bench Jan. 14.