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Children’s Rights Joins Opposition to Wisconsin Legislation Granting Termination of Parental Rights of Incarcerated Parents

Contact: Camilla Jenkins, cjenkins@childrensrights.org

Children and family advocates, including Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families (DCF), are speaking out in loud opposition to an amended bill (SB 595) introduced on January 28 by state lawmakers that could strip away the parental rights of people in prison by adding additional factors to be weighed by authorities in parental rights proceedings. The proposed legislation comes just months after a judge ruled that DCF could exit federal court oversight of a settlement agreement that led to tangible positive results for children and families. The settlement agreement resulted from a class action lawsuit, Jeanine B. v Walker, brought by Children’s Rights. Eric Thompson, Of Counsel for Children’s Rights, issued the following statement opposing the bill:

“This is a step backwards for a state that has worked hard to provide sufficient resources to care for and safeguard children, and to keep families together whenever possible—not drive them apart as this bill would do. Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families (DCF) sweeping improvements to the system, even under the ongoing pressures caused by COVID-19, mean the system is finally accountable to the kids and families it serves.

“The bill runs counter to that success. It unfairly tears families apart and targets parents in the criminal legal system who have few resources at the best of times, and even fewer now. And, because Black and indigenous people make up a disproportionate percentage of imprisoned people, it perpetuates the oppression of people of color and could lead to more children being unnecessarily placed in the foster care system. Incarceration itself should not be grounds for severing the connection between a child and their family. Courts are capable of addressing incarceration when relevant without blunt legislative mandates.”

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Every day, children are harmed in America’s broken child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.