Report: Milwaukee Maintains Vital Improvements to Child Welfare System

State Must Continue Efforts to Reunite Families and Find Stable Homes for Children

 
MILWAUKEE – While the Wisconsin Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) is continuing to maintain improvements in fundamental areas of the child welfare system — such as sustaining manageable caseloads and keeping children safe from abuse and neglect while in foster care — the state must continue to focus on reuniting children safely and quickly with their birth parents, as well as keeping children from shuffling from one foster placement to another, according to a new progress report tracking the ongoing reform effort spurred by Children’s Rights.

The new progress report (PDF), covering the six month period between January and June 2011, notes that theBMCW continued to maintain — and in some areas further improved upon — key areas of reform. The BMCW has brought child welfare caseloads down to an all-time low of about nine families per worker and has continued to see the rate of maltreatment of children in state custody decline. Additionally, 94 percent of all children in foster care are receiving their annual medical exams and 90 percent receive yearly dental exams.

“The Bureau should be commended for its sustained reform efforts that have had a real impact on the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable children in its care,” said Eric Thompson, senior litigation counsel for Children’s Rights. “The state must continue to build on that success and provide the children in its care the stability they need and the loving homes they deserve.”

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 continued to make incremental progress in both areas.

Today’s report shows that BMCW is completing 66 percent of family reunifications within 12 months, a 5 percent improvement from 2010 but still short of the 71 percent court-enforceable goal. Furthermore, approximately 20 percent of children in BMCW care have experienced more than three placement moves in their most recent foster care stay. BMCW has continued to show gradual gains in this area, but more work must be done to bring this number down to 10 percent or less, as required.

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.