“Child abuse” is defined by Michigan law as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through non-accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatments, by a parent, a legal guardian, or any other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare or by a teacher, a teacher’s aide, or a member of the clergy.”
“Child neglect” is defined by Michigan law as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare by a parent, legal custodian, or any other person responsible for a child’s health or welfare that occurs through either of the following:
(a) Negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
(b) Placing a child at an unreasonable risk to the child’s health or welfare by failure of the parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s health or welfare to intervene to eliminate that risk when that person is able to do so and has, or should have, knowledge of the risk
Examples of Child Abuse or Neglect
Sometimes children have been removed from a parent’s home and parental rights have been terminated because a parent has failed to protect the children from an abusive spouse or from an abusive live-in boyfriend or girlfriend. A parent who regularly uses illegal drugs or alcohol and who, as a result, fails to provide adequate housing or care for her children can have her parental rights terminated. Failure to make sure that a child or children receives needed medical care can also be found by a court to be child neglect and can lead to termination of parental rights.
Reporting Child Abuse or Neglect
People who in good faith report potential child neglect or child abuse are protected by law from being sued. Some people are required by law to make a report when they suspect child neglect or abuse. These people include: doctors, nurses, other medical care providers; school administrators, teachers, and counselors; mental health workers in all specialties; law enforcement personnel; clergy; and regulated child care providers. Anyone who intentionally makes a false report of suspected child abuse or neglect is guilty of a crime and could be prosecuted.
There are telephone numbers that persons who observe or suspect child abuse and neglect can call to make a report so that Child Protective Services workers can investigate.
Michigan State-wide telephone numbers for reporting
child abuse and neglect [Word] [PDF]
Investigation of Reports of Child Abuse or Neglect
After the Michigan Department of Human Services (formerly known as FIA) receives a report, the agency must begin an investigation within 24 hours. Sometimes a Child Protective Services (CPS) worker may interview the child – either at home or at school. If the CPS worker thinks a medical evaluation is necessary, they will seek authority for one.
There is a particular method that is supposed to be used in an investigation of child abuse or neglect. It is very important that this process is properly done in order to avoid “contamination” of the child-witness.
The interviewing process is supposed to be done according to the “Forensic Interviewing Protocol.” The reason why this particular method is used is “to obtain a statement from a child, in a developmentally sensitive, unbiased, and truth-seeking manner, that will support accurate and fair decision making in the criminal justice and child welfare systems.”
The interviewer is supposed to talk to the child in a manner that will not put words into the child’s mouth that can substantiate abuse that really did not occur. For example, it is well known that children like to please their parents, teachers, policemen, and others that their parents have encouraged them to trust. A CPS worker or other professional who interviews a child while a parent or policeman who is in uniform is present, will have violated the Forensic Interviewing Protocol because having a parent or a person of such obvious authority in the room creates the suspicion that the child’s responses to questions are not reliable. The child may be answering the way she thinks the parent (who may be encouraging the child to say bad things about the other parent) or the policeman wants her to answer. If your child will be interviewed, you may want to insist that the interview be
videotaped in order to make sure that the protocol is properly followed. You will also want to make sure that the child is not interviewed repeatedly.
What Happens Next?
After the investigation, the Department of Human Services and the county prosecutor will decide whether to file a petition in a child protective proceeding. Sometimes they will determine that a report is “unsubstantiated” and nothing will occur. But if the allegations are substantiated, a petition will be filed with the Family Court.
If a petition is filed and if the child is removed from the parent’s home, the Family Court must hold a preliminary hearing within 24 hours. If the petition alleges severe physical or sexual abuse of the child and the child has not been taken into custody, the court must also hold a preliminary hearing within 24 hours. Otherwise, if a petition is filed, the court will schedule a hearing as soon as possible. Sometimes, after a preliminary hearing, a petition will be dismissed.
Appointment of a Guardian ad Litem and of Attorney
If a petition is authorized in a child protective proceeding, the Family Court will appoint a lawyer who is called the “Guardian ad Litem” for the child. It’s this person’s job to visit, interview, and otherwise investigate the child’s situation and to make recommendations to the court based upon his or her observations and insights. The Family court will appoint a lawyer for a parent against whom a petition is filed, but parents are allowed to retain their own attorneys if they wish.
Placement of Children After a Child Protective Proceeding is Filed.
Children are not always placed in protective custody during child protective proceedings. The court is obligated to place children with a relative if possible. If there is no suitable relative, the court may place the children with foster parents. A court might place the children with one parent, but order the other parent or a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend to move out of the house. The Family Court may order, and the Department of Human Services may supervise, various in-home services to help a parent get his or her life straightened out. Periodic reviews will be conducted in the court.
If the children are removed from their own home, a review must occur within 182 days and every 91 days after that. If a child remains in foster care more than one year, the Family Court must conduct a permanency planning hearing to determine whether the child should be placed under the permanent custody of the court.
Termination of Parental Rights
In cases of severe abuse or neglect, the Family Court may be asked to terminate the parental rights of one or both parents. If parental rights are terminated, that means that the parent-child relationship is permanently severed.
Prior to terminating a person’s parental rights, the Family Court must conduct a trial. The prosecutor will represent the Department of Human Services, and each parent is entitled to be represented by counsel. Each parent is entitled to present evidence. The court will only consider “competent evidence” if termination of parental rights is requested. That means that the Michigan Rules of Evidence will apply. Hearsay evidence will not be admitted unless a specific exception applies. It’s up to the prosecutor to prove neglect or abuse by “clear and convincing” evidence.
Grounds for Termination of Parental Rights in Michigan
There are 14 specific grounds for termination of parental rights in Michigan. These include the following:
(a) Desertion. The child has been deserted or abandoned under any of the following circumstances:
(i) The child's parent is unidentifiable, has deserted the child for 28 or more days, and has not sought custody of the child during that period.
(ii) The child's parent has deserted the child for 91 or more days and has not sought custody of the child during that period.
(iii) The child's parent voluntarily surrendered the child to an emergency service provider and did not petition the court to regain custody within 28 days after surrendering the child.
(b) Parent Harmed Child or Sibling. The child or a sibling of the child has suffered physical injury or physical or sexual abuse under one or more of the following circumstances:
(i) The parent's act caused the physical injury or physical or sexual abuse and the court finds that there is a reasonable likelihood that the child will suffer from injury or abuse in the foreseeable future if placed in the parent's home.
(ii) The parent who had the opportunity to prevent the physical injury or physical or sexual abuse failed to do so and the court finds that there is a reasonable likelihood that the child will suffer injury or abuse in the foreseeable future if placed in the parent's home.
(iii) A non-parent adult's act caused the physical injury or physical or sexual abuse and the court finds that there is a reasonable likelihood that the child will suffer from injury or abuse by the non-parent adult in the foreseeable future if placed in the parent's home.
(c) Expiration of 182 Days. The parent was a respondent in a proceeding brought under this chapter, 182 or more days have elapsed since the issuance of an initial dispositional order, and the court, by clear and convincing evidence, finds either of the following:
(i) The conditions that led to the adjudication continue to exist and there is no reasonable likelihood that the conditions will be rectified within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
(ii) Other conditions exist that cause the child to come within the court's jurisdiction.
(iii) The parent has received recommendations to rectify those conditions, the conditions have not been rectified by the parent after the parent has received notice and a hearing and has been given a reasonable opportunity to rectify the conditions, and there is no reasonable likelihood that the conditions will be rectified within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
(d), (e), and (f) Guardian or Limited Guardian. The child's parent has placed the child in a limited guardianship and has substantially failed, without good cause, to comply with a limited guardianship placement plan.
To terminate parental rights in such a case, the Family Court must find either
(i) that the parent’s failure to comply with a guardianship plan is sufficiently serious that it has disrupted the parent-child relationship; or
(ii) that a parent who had the ability to provide support for the minor and who had the ability to visit, contact, or communicate with the child, didn’t provide regular and substantial support, without good cause, and substantially failed, without good cause, to visit, contact or communicate for a period of 2 years or more before the filing of a petition to terminate the parent’s rights.
(g) Failure to Provide Proper Care or Custody. The parent, without regard to intent, fails to provide proper care or custody for the child and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care and custody within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
(h) Parental Imprisonment. The parent is imprisoned for such a period that the child will be deprived of a normal home for a period exceeding 2 years, and the parent has not provided for the child's proper care and custody, and there is no reasonable expectation that the parent will be able to provide proper care and custody within a reasonable time considering the child's age.
(i) Prior Termination of Parental Rights. If a parent has previously had her parental rights to one or more siblings of the child terminated because of serious and chronic neglect or physical or sexual abuse, and prior attempts to rehabilitate the parents have been unsuccessful.
(j) Likelihood of Future Harm. There is a reasonable likelihood, based on the conduct or capacity of the child's parent, that the child will be harmed if he or she is returned to the home of the parent.
(k) Serious Abuse or Neglect. The parent abused the child or a sibling of the child and the abuse included one or more specific forms of abuse or neglect such as criminal sexual conduct involving penetration, battering, or life-threatening injuries.
(l) Termination of Parental Rights by a Michigan Court or Courts of Another State. The parent's rights to another child were terminated as a result of neglect / abuse proceedings in Michigan or elsewhere.
(m) Voluntary Termination of Parental Rights by a Michigan Court or Courts of Another State. The parent voluntarily agreed to termination of his or her parental rights to another child – either in a Michigan Court or in some other state’s court.
(n) Conviction of Certain Specified Crimes. The parent is convicted of one or more of the following, and the court determines that continuing the parent-child relationship with the parent would be harmful to the child. These crimes include murder, criminal sexual conduct, or repeated violent crimes. [It isn’t necessary that the crime was committed by a third party instead of the child or the child’s other parent].
Appeal of an Unfavorable Decision of the Family Court
An order removing a child or children from a parent’s home, an order placing the child under the supervision of the court, an order terminating parental rights, or any other final order can be appealed as of right. If the parent cannot afford an attorney, the Family Court will appoint one. Indigent parents are entitled to transcripts of the proceedings at public expense. There are strict time requirements that apply for the filing of such appeals. Failure to file the appeal within the appropriate time limits will likely result in loss of ability to appeal the decision. Therefore, if your parental rights are terminated, you will want to consult with an attorney promptly.
The information presented on this website is not intended to serve as a substitute for consultation with an attorney, nor is it intended to create an attorney-client relationship. Specific legal issues, concerns and conditions always require the advice of appropriate legal professional.