Milwaukee Foster Parent Recruitment Plan Calls for Better Support & Treatment — and 250 New Families Per Year

MILWAUKEE, WI — Child welfare reform advocates from Children’s Rights today called upon the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) to move quickly in implementing a new plan developed by independent experts for recruiting 610 additional foster homes needed to address a severe, ongoing shortage.

The new (PDF), prepared by the Utah Foster Care Foundation and released publicly today, not only prescribes specific steps the BMCW must take to recruit 250 foster families per year until it meets the needs of all of the abused and neglected children who depend on it, but also says the bureau must significantly improve both the support it offers foster families and the relationships it maintains with them and the communities from which it recruits them.

The continuing lack of available foster families has led the BMCW to move many of the abused and neglected children in its custody repeatedly from one poorly matched foster home to another, placing their well-being at risk and reducing their chances of being returned to their families or adopted.

“For too long, the vital role of Milwaukee foster parents in nurturing children in foster care and keeping them safe has been undervalued,” said Eric Thompson, senior litigation counsel for Children’s Rights. “This plan sets forth concrete strategies for correcting the problems of the past and focusing the BMCW, the agencies it contracts, and the community members they serve on the shared goal of providing dramatically better care for Milwaukee’s abused and neglected kids.”

The recruitment and retention plan was developed as part of a long-running effort to reform the troubled Milwaukee child welfare system under the 2002 settlement of a class action brought in federal court by Children’s Rights on behalf of the more than 2,600 children who depend on the system for protection and care. In December 2008, Children’s Rights and state officials negotiated a Corrective Action Plan aimed at bringing the BMCW into compliance with several requirements for reform encompassed by the court-enforceable settlement; the 2008 agreement requires the BMCW to undertake diligent and good-faith efforts to implement the recruitment and retention plan.

Among the plan’s key findings and recommendations:

The plan also notes concerns that the agency contracted by BMCW to recruit foster families has not been sufficiently sensitive to issues of poverty and culture in the racially and ethnically diverse urban areas where the need to recruit and retain foster families is greatest, and recommends devoting particular attention to addressing these concerns.

“While this plan’s critiques are strong and its goals ambitious, we are encouraged by the BMCW’s commitment to regard it as an opportunity to transform its relationships with foster parents in Milwaukee,” said Thompson. “Children’s Rights will support the BMCW in these efforts, and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the plan’s recommendations are implemented.”

The court order under which the BMCW is operating is the result of the federal class action known as Jeanine B. v. Doyle, filed by Children’s Rights and co-counsel in 1993, which charged 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.

The settlement produced significant results — notably a drastic reduction in caseloads for Milwaukee child welfare workers and an equally dramatic upswing in visits between caseworkers and children in foster care. But serious problems remain, and in December 2008, Children’s Rights and state officials worked collaboratively to reach agreement on a Corrective Action Plan aimed at bringing BMCW into full compliance with the requirements of the settlement agreement, which remains in effect.

The full text of today’s assessment — and more information about Children’s Rights reform efforts in Milwaukee — can be found at www.childrensrights.org/milwaukee.

Related Press:

Foster care agency fares poorly in report (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13/2009)

Couple glad they returned to system (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13/2009)

Mom to four says it’s worth the effort (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13/2009)

Foster families in Milwaukee County (Slideshow, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13/2009)