Michigan agency changes oversight policy after infant death

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) (06/17/18) - Children's Protective Services in a western Michigan county is changing its oversight policy after the death of a baby who was left alone for two days strapped in a car seat inside his home.

The Kent County agency will now require a higher-level manager to sign off on caseworker decisions involving families with more than one prior case, WOOD-TV reported.

The change follows the death of Noah Johnson last year. An autopsy found that the 6-month-old had a diaper rash and had been dead for some time before his mother, Lovily Johnson, brought the infant's lifeless body to the hospital.

Police said that Johnson, 22, admitted to leaving her baby alone for days while she hung out with friends and smoked pot. She was charged with murder and child abuse.

Noah's death wasn't the first time that the state had contact with his family. The agency confirmed neglect or abuse of Noah on more than one occasion before his death, but the risk level was low enough to not require additional monitoring.

Now a program manager will review such cases, even if the risk is low to moderate.

"There will be higher level review in cases that meet this criteria, with a program manager now reviewing and approving them," said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. "This is a result of the Noah Johnson case."

Children's Protective Services decision not to monitor Noah's care was one of the failures cited in a review by the independent, state-funded Office of Children's Ombudsman.

Following the watchdog agency's report, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services released a statement assuring that it has "provided staff with training on relevant policies and laws and has enhanced local office procedures to include additional oversight."

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