Wisconsin (Jeanine B. v. Walker)
Children’s Rights and co-counsel filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Wisconsin in 1993, after local child advocates sought guidance on how to reform the child welfare system in Milwaukee. The federal complaint asserted that the foster care system in Milwaukee was in crisis, creating dangerous consequences for children, including:
- High rates of abuse and neglect of children while in foster care;
- Frequent moves among foster homes with little caseworker oversight;
- Inadequate and untimely investigation of abuse and neglect allegations; and
- Failure to move children quickly into permanent homes, causing children to languish unnecessarily in state custody.
In 1998, the state took control of the previously county-run system with the creation of the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare (BMCW). When promised reforms failed to take place, Children’s Rights filed a supplemental complaint in 1999. A settlement agreement mandating a complete overhaul of the child welfare system was reached in 2002, shortly before the scheduled trial date.
Since then, BMCW has successfully implemented many court-ordered reforms, improving case practice and outcomes for foster children. Caseworker training and retention efforts have greatly improved, and workers’ caseloads — some of which topped 100 children per worker in 1993 — dropped to an average of 17 children per worker by the end of 2005. Additional initiatives are addressing remaining areas of settlement non-compliance.