Important Ruling Protects Milwaukee Foster Children

MILWAUKEE, WI — Federal arbitrator and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine P. Geske today ruled that the state Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) must continue the caseworker retention efforts it initiated a year ago in the face of over 50% annual turnover rates. The ruling is binding and is in response to a motion filed by Children’s Rights, a national watchdog group, in its federal suit on behalf of Milwaukee’s foster children. A 2002 settlement agreement in the Jeanine B. v. Doyle federal class-action case requires the BMCW to implement necessary corrective actions when, as is currently the case, the state is out of compliance with the expected benchmarks for child safety, permanence and well-being.

“High turnover among caseworkers continues to harm foster children in Milwaukee,” said Eric Thompson, senior staff attorney at Children’s Rights. “Today’s ruling will protect vulnerable children by retaining qualified workers, who would otherwise be left guessing whether their salaries will be fully funded next year.”

It is now up to Governor Doyle and the Wisconsin Legislature to see that funding to maintain the corrective action initiatives is included in the state’s next biennial budget.

In 2004, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare lost 129 of 233 workers (55%). In 2005, it lost 113 of 210 caseworkers (54%). Since the retention initiatives were put in place in late 2005, turnover rates have been cut in half.

The harm to children and families resulting from high, chronic caseworker turnover is well documented. A state expert found that while a foster child with one caseworker had a 74.5% chance of being placed in a permanent home within 18 months, a foster child assigned two different caseworkers only had a 17.5% chance of achieving such permanency.

“Hiring and keeping skilled caseworkers is a pre-requisite for ensuring that the BMCW meets its obligations to protect and serve the thousands of children in its care,” Thompson said. “This will ensure that the progress being made toward compliance will not be derailed.”

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