Your Child May Go Home: Please Remit $126,494.22

2nd Floor Rotunda


Scott and Robin Galehouse may have thought they were charting new territory when – after winning their case, and having their daughter returned home – they challenged the bill they were handed for her “care” while in the hands of the state.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals had gone down this road before.

On reading the case, it isn’t quite clear just how or why their daughter Shawna wound up in care. She’d been adjudicated “delinquent” in juvenile delinquency proceedings in September of 2008, and she was placed briefly in a detention center until such time as the trial court terminated its jurisdiction over her in March of 2009. Alas, Shawna was once again adjudicated delinquent in 2010, and was subsequently placed in foster care.

That’s when the department of social services made its move. As the Court of Appeals explains it: “She was subsequently placed in foster care. The child protective proceedings began in February 2011 when an abuse and neglect petition was filed against appellants, alleging that their home or environment was an unfit place for Shawna to live because of neglect, cruelty, drunkenness, criminality, or depravity. The petition also reported that Shawna was ‘in foster care pending her return home any day.’ After trial, the trial court assumed jurisdiction over Shawna and ordered appellants to comply with a case service plan.”

The Court of Appeals, however, did something that it doesn’t do quite as often as it should. It reversed. As the Court of Appeals explains:

On February 16, 2012, however, this Court issued an unpublished opinion reversing the trial court’s assumption of jurisdiction and the corresponding dispositional order “[b]ecause the trial court admitted a great deal of improper and damaging hearsay testimony.”

The outcome? “On remand, the abuse and neglect petition was dismissed by the trial court in April 2012.”

Apparently the department gave up on the Galehouse’ case, and packed up its bag of of lies, innuendos, and dirty tricks to use in their next trial.

You may find yourself tempted to think that this may be a time to pop open a champagne cork, but before you do that, consider that you may soon enough find yourself unable to afford so much as a corkscrew, let alone the bottle with which to celebrate your daughters homecoming.

How can this be? Delinquency is a little-known pathway into the foster care system, and that pathway may be used even if there are no charges of abuse or neglect. This is true in many states, and, in Michigan, according to the relevant statutes, in juvenile delinquency proceedings, the trial court may “issue an order of disposition removing the minor from the home, and it may place the juvenile in a suitable foster care home subject to the court’s supervision or in a public or private institution, agency, or facility.”

So many choices, so much the better. Maybe this delinquent youngster will go to a group home, maybe another will go to a detention facility complete with rusty bars, while another still may wind up in the home of complete strangers. In this specific context, does any one of these options sound any the more appealing to you? In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter, because it’s all part and parcel of that nasty business known as “out-of-home care.”

And all of that comes at a cost. Not just to the taxpayer on the state and federal level, but also to the family of the youthful “offender,” regardless of whether or not she ultimately prevails in court. More specifically, according to the relevant portions of Michigan’s juvenile code:

An order of disposition placing a juvenile in or committing a juvenile to care outside of the juvenile’s own home and under state, county juvenile agency, or court supervision shall contain a provision for reimbursement by the juvenile, parent, guardian, or custodian to the court for the cost of care or service. The order shall be reasonable, taking into account both the income and resources of the juvenile, parent, guardian, or custodian.

The reimbursement provision applies during the entire period the juvenile remains in care outside of the juvenile’s own home and under state, county juvenile agency, or court supervision, unless the juvenile is in the permanent custody of the court.

More specifically, MCL 712A.18(2) and MCL 712A.6 confer jurisdiction on the court “to obtain reimbursement from certain adults in the child’s life regardless of their culpability for causing the court to remove the child.” (Emphasis as in original ruling).

REVENUE MAXIMIZATION IN ACTION

The parents argued on appeal that would be inappropriate for them to “reimburse” the system to the tune of $126,494.22 – let alone any amount at all – because the federal and state governments bear the responsibility of making those reimbursements. This much is true, the Court of Appeal explained, however the doesn’t prevent the state from double-dipping and charging both the individual families, as well as the state and federal government for reimbursement. As the Court of Appeal explained:

Appellants also suggest that the reimbursement order was improper because the state and federal government are responsible for reimbursing the county for the cost of Shawna’s care and services. The essence of this argument seems to be that if a county is reimbursed for the costs of care by the state or federal government, then it is improper to order the parents to reimburse the county for the same costs. We disagree with appellants’ argument. The clear statutory language of MCL 712A.18(2) does not provide for such a consideration and we will not read into the statute such a provision.

This form of “double dipping” has been going on for decades, and, to the best of my knowledge, it has continued unchallenged to this day.

Clearly, the Court of Appeals smelled the proverbial rat, but it has limited powers to remedy such situations. As it explained in its sole footnote to the case:

Appellants assert that a three year out-of-home placement in a juvenile proceeding was unreasonable. However, the court had jurisdiction over Shawna in the delinquency proceedings until she reached 19 years of age or the court terminated its jurisdiction by order. MCL 712A.2a(1); MCL 712A.2(a)(1) and (3). Therefore, although appellants may be correct that outof-home placement for three years in a delinquency case for “misdemeanors” was unusual, the trial court nonetheless had statutory authority.

In the end, our alleged miscreant gets to go home to her “unfit” home due to her parents’ alleged “neglect, cruelty, drunkenness, criminality, or depravity.” And, her family has the burden of paying whatever is left of the $126,494.22 bill for her three years in out-of-home care, first as a an alleged delinquent, then as an allegedly neglected child.

These are you tax dollars at work. And, that Scott and Robin Galehouse are dutifully paying off their $126,494.22 debt to the county, won’t provide you with any relief from paying for it yourself.

in Re Shawna Maye Galehouse, 326712 (Mich. Ct. App. 2016).