Milwaukee Must Focus on Maintaining Stability in Foster Care Placements and Returning Kids Home More Quickly

MILWAUKEE, WI — While the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) has made important progress in implementing widespread reforms required under a court order secured by Children’s Rights — including dramatically reducing the number of children who suffer abuse or neglect in their foster homes — a new progress report shows that too many children slated for reunification with their families are waiting too long in foster care before they go home, and BMCW is moving the children in its custody too often between different foster homes.

According to the report (PDF), issued today by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ Office of Performance and Quality Assurance and evaluating performance for 2009, BMCW continues to fall short on a court-enforceable requirement to quickly reunify children with their families. Only 57 percent of children who were reunified with their families in 2009 went home within a year — a steady decline in progress since 2005.

Additionally, BMCW is still moving Milwaukee children in foster care too many times from one foster placement to another, with nearly 25 percent of children experiencing at least four different foster homes or institutional placements while in foster care.

Today’s report notes that BMCW continues to make progress in several areas where it has reached compliance with the original court order, including the reduction of children experiencing abuse and neglect while in foster care. According to the report, only 0.4 percent of children were reported as victims of abuse or neglect in care in 2009 — a decline of more than 50 percent since 2007.

“While BMCW’s new leadership has made encouraging progress in improving protection and care for Milwaukee’s abused and neglected kids, today’s report shows that significant challenges remain,” said Eric Thompson, senior litigation counsel for Children’s Rights. “Children need stable homes, and BMCW must focus on ensuring that those children who can return to their families do so quickly, and that those in foster care are not continually shuffled between poorly matched placements.”

BMCW also continues to face an extremely high turnover rate among its caseworkers. At the beginning of 2009,BMCW had 196 ongoing case managers. By the end of the year, they had lost 86 (44 percent) of those caseworkers. A stable workforce is a fundamental aspect of a successful child welfare system, and BMCW must continue to work hard in the coming months to retain its workforce by supporting caseworkers with adequate training and supervision.

BMCW’s reforms are mandated by a 2002 settlement of the federal class action known as Jeanine B. v. Doyle, brought against Wisconsin by Children’s Rights on behalf of all children in the Milwaukee child welfare system. The federal court order that resulted produced significant results — notably a drastic reduction in caseloads for Milwaukee child welfare workers and an equally dramatic upswing in face-to-face visits between caseworkers and the children assigned to them.

But serious problems remain and a court-enforceable Corrective Action Plan aimed at bringing BMCW into full compliance with the requirements of the court order is being implemented.

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.