MI audit identifies issues with child welfare computer system

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — An audit has identified several problems with the computer system Michigan Department of Health and Human Services uses to manage the state’s more than 300,000 child welfare cases.

Among the problems cited in the 44-page report: The state computer system lacks an automated process for recouping overpayments to providers.

According to the report by Michigan’s auditor general, the state found child welfare providers had been overpaid a total of $7.9 million between March 2014 and October 2016

“As of January 19, 2017, MDHHS had not notified providers of the overpayments and, therefore, had not collected the amounts due,” the report noted.

The auditor general said the lack of notification may cause financial hardship for providers when MDHHS collects overpayments.

The audit examined the effectiveness of the Michigan Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System, which was implemented in April 2014 to replace the old case management system.

More than 7,000 MDHHS workers use the automated child welfare information system to manage:

  • 251, 831 child protective services investigations
  • 39,116 ongoing child protective services cases
  • 27,068 foster care cases
  • 8,655 adoption cases

The auditor general said the system is used by MDHHS and private welfare agency providers to manage child intake, case services, determine eligibility and process child welfare benefits.

The audit did not examine the computer system’s effectiveness in processing child protective services investigation records. That will be covered in a separate audit scheduled for release in late 2017.

The audit released Tuesday determined the child welfare management information system was “moderately effective” and “sufficient with exceptions” in the areas examined, but also noted that users were “generally dissatisfied” with the system.

In total, the audit cited four “material” conditions, which are considered the most serious. The audit determined that there were some duplicate person records in MiSACWIS and that the MDHHS did not “fully implement procedures to identify and merge multiple records for the same person in MiSACWIS prior to system implementation.”

The duplicate records created problems for those who use the child welfare information system, based on a survey by the auditor general:

  • 73 percent said they experience difficulties determining the appropriate person to add to a case.
  • 68 percent said they spent excessive time cleaning up case information because of duplicate records for one person.
  • 52 percent indicated that they called the help desk because of duplicate records for one person.
  • 48 percent indicated that they experienced difficulties starting a case

MDHHS agreed with the audit’s findings regarding duplicate cases, but also said the agency had made “significant efforts” to educate users regarding how to manage the multiple records.

MDHHS reported to the auditor that as of October 2016, it had merged almost 3.5 million duplicate person records into approximately 1 million unique person records.

Additionally, the audit found 208 out of 69,722 active cases had no worker assigned to them, including cases involving CPS, guardianships, foster care and adoptions.

“Although 208 cases represent a relatively small percentage of the total 69,722 caseload, appropriate system controls are necessary to ensure that all cases are actively managed and all children and families receive necessary services,” wrote the auditor.

MDHHS and the Department of Technology, Management and Budget agreed with the finding, but noted that an examination of all 208 cases showed they had been converted from the old computer system and should have been closed.

“This did not negatively impact any child’s welfare,” MDHHS said in its response.

Bob Wheaton, spokesperson for MDHHS, said the agency views audits as opportunities to improve.

“We have made significant improvements in MiSACWIS since the system was implemented by listening to what our staff and other users have had to say,” Wheaton said. “Protecting the safety and well-being of children involved in Michigan’s child welfare system is a top priority of MDHHS. The department will continue making improvements to MiSACWIS so that we are better positioned to have access to the information needed to do an even better job of protecting children.”