In the early 1990's, a group of child rights advocates groups filed a federal law suit against Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin, stating that the rights of children in foster care in Milwaukee were being violated. The state tried to get out of the lawsuit, but wasn't allowed to. Then the county, the state and the advocacy groups agreed to have a private audit done of the child welfare system. The audit showed that Milwaukee County was not being fully funded in the state.
The state denied this finding and stated that Milwaukee was getting enough money, but that it was being mismanaged. In 1996, Tommy Thompson and some of his puppets (including Margaret Farrow and Alberta Darling) in the state legislature added an earmark to the state budget. This earmark stated that, effective January 1, 1998, the state would take over the child welfare system in any county with a population of more that 500,000. There was only one county that fit into that parameter-Milwaukee. Thus, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare was formed. It had a starting budget that was more than $30 million dollars than what they allotted Milwaukee County when it ran the system.
The Bureau took over and immediately divided the county into five sections, and put up each section for bidding, as well as the adoptions and foster home licensing sections of the system. The county was able to win contracts for adoptions, licensing and two of the five sites. The other three sites went to three private agencies.
Over the course of the next three and a half years, Milwaukee County was slowly, but surely, forced out of the system, and it was entirely privatized. This is in despite of an audit that showed that the county was able to provide better care more efficiently and for less money. Many of the private agencies folded and/or merged with others to create new agencies.
Ever since the state took over, the same problems continue, and new ones have arisen. The only positive is that children are being adopted at a faster pace, but that is mostly due to compliance with a federal mandate passed by the Clinton administration. Otherwise, the children who have been abused and/or neglected continue to be bounced from home to home, abused in the foster homes they are placed in, don't receive needed services, and having their lives put on hold due to high staff turnover rates.
Now, in today's paper, there is a story of this continuing. The most alarming part of the article is that the number of foster homes available to these children have dropped by 78%. The article fails to mention why the drop in available homes, but common complaints from the past include the extremely low rate of reimbursement (just over $300 per month to feed, clothe and provide all other necessities) and the fact that the Bureau is not receptive or supportive when they are trying to deal with these troubled children. The lack of homes results in children being placed in unsafe homes, or in being bounced from home to home. These results only further traumatize the child, making him or her more difficult to care for.
These poor showings, without any real or substantive shows of improvement, continue year after year. Every year, after every more report, the state says that it is unacceptable and is going to change, but never does. It is time that we demand that the state either put forth a more serious effort to help our children who have already been failed by their own parents, or better yet, get out of the system and give it back to Milwaukee County, and let us take care of our own.
This demand should be bipartisan. Not only will it provide better protection for our children, it would put control back on a local level, and make more efficient use of our tax dollars.