Milwaukee Continuing to Improve Safety and Well-Being of Foster Kids, But Still Falls Short in Two Critical Areas

MILWAUKEE, WIS. – The number of children abused or neglected while in Milwaukee foster care has fallen to a historic low, according to a new progress report tracking the ongoing effort spurred by Children’s Rights to reform the county’s once-troubled child welfare system. However, the state must continue to focus on limiting the number of different foster placements children are moved through, according to the report, and on reunifying children with their parents more quickly.

The new progress report (PDF), released today along with a 2010 annual performance report (PDF), notes that while the state’s Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) still has those two critical areas left to improve, it has continued to maintain or improve upon other areas where it has already reached compliance, including reducing the rate at which children are harmed while in state custody to a new low of 0.24 percent.

The BMCW has brought child welfare caseloads down to an average of 10 families per worker and ensured that 96 percent of children in foster care have face-to-face visits at least once a month with their caseworker. Additionally, the bureau is doing a significantly better job delivering health care services to children in foster care, with 91 percent of children receiving annual medical exams and 89 percent of children getting initial health screenings within five business days of entering foster care.

“The Bureau has made tremendous progress transforming its child welfare system over the last several years, improving the basic safety and well-being of the many vulnerable children in its care,” said Eric Thompson, senior litigation counsel for Children’s Rights. “However, it is critically important Milwaukee also focus on ensuring children’s experience in foster care is as stable and brief as possible.”

While BMCW has not yet reached compliance with the final benchmarks related to timely reunifications and reducing the number of placements children are subjected to while in foster care, they have made incremental progress on both measures. BMCW is implementing a number of new strategies to address the two remaining issues, which includes revamping its process of finding appropriate placements for children with more challenging medical and mental health needs. BMCW is also working to strengthen family engagement and visitation to successfully reunify families in a timely manner.

Both of today’s reports were issued by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Office of Performance and Quality Assurance.

Children’s Rights and co-counsel filed the federal class action known as Jeanine B. v. Walker in 1993, charging that the Milwaukee child welfare system was grossly mismanaged and failed to protect the safety and well-being of the children in its care. In 1998, the state took control of the previously county-run system with the creation of the BMCW.A court-enforceable settlement agreement mandating an overhaul of the child welfare system and better outcomes for children was reached in 2002. State officials are currently implementing an agreed-upon Corrective Action Plan aimed at bringing BMCW into full compliance with the requirements of the settlement agreement, which remains in effect.

More information about Children’s Rights’ reform efforts in Milwaukee, including an archive of documents related to the case, can be found at www.childrensrights.org/milwaukee.