Wisconsin Closing in on Milwaukee Child Welfare Reform Requirements

BMCW must redouble its efforts to reach full compliance with remaining Settlement provisions

(Milwaukee, WI) –The Wisconsin Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) continues to improve foster care for the children of Milwaukee County, according to a Settlement reform progress report released today by State reviewers.

The reform plan, spurred by Children’s Rights on behalf of Milwaukee County’s abused and neglected children, required BMCW to achieve over a dozen outcomes for children in the state’s care. According to the report, which measures the bureau’s performance from July 1 through December 31, 2011, and provides data for the entire year, only two requirements have not yet been reached.

“The state should be commended for further improvement in areas that are vital to keeping vulnerable children safe,” said Eric Thompson, senior litigation counsel for Children’s Rights. “Ongoing advances, including in areas that are no longer being enforced, show that the Bureau is dedicated to addressing and maintaining all court-ordered reforms.”

The provisions with which BMCW is in compliance and continues to improve upon include reducing the occurrence of abuse and neglect of children in foster care placements. This saw an all-time low of 0.22 percent, or a total of seven children, maltreated by their caregivers in 2011. This rate has been on a steady decline after a targeted focus on child safety was implemented in recent years. By comparison, as recently as 2007, .93 percent, or 36, Milwaukee foster children were maltreated by their caregivers.

BMCW also achieved its highest levels yet for providing children with basic healthcare services. In 2011, 95 percent of children in foster care received at least an annual medical exam and 92 percent were current with their annual dental exams.

Caseworker performance also improved as 97 percent of the expected monthly face-to-face visits with children were completed in 2011. BMCW further reduced child welfare caseloads to an all-time low of 15.7 children per caseworker in 2011, compared to over 20 per worker in 2009.

While BMCW has not yet reached compliance with two final benchmarks related to timely reunifications and reducing the number of multiple placements during foster care, they have continued to make progress in both these areas.

According to the report, BMCW’s timely reunification performance for 2011 was at 68 percent. This is just short of the reform plan’s performance standard that 71 percent of reunifications with their parents be within 12 months of the children’s entry into out-of-home care. In fact, the bureau met the requirement to reunite children safely and quickly with their birth parents for the second half of 2011 and, overall, BMCW has shown steady improvement in this provision since 2009.

BMCW is also making steady progress when it comes to preventing the shuffling of foster children from one placement to another while in state care. In 2011, placement stability reached its highest level yet with 82 percent of children in out-of-home care having experienced three or fewer placements during their current stay in BMCWcustody. The Settlement requires BMCW to attain 90 percent on this measure.

“Progress will not hit the mark if it does not meet the remaining performance standards,” said Thompson. “BMCW must redouble its efforts to reach full compliance. We are confident that with continued focus, the Bureau can meet all requirements of the reform plan.”

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. As a result, the state took control of the previously county-run system with the creation of theBMCW in 1998. 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.