The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, the privatized foster care system overseen by the State, has been in the news a lot lately, and not for good things. Now in today's JSOnline is this story:
UPDATE: Infant death possible homicide
The death of a 5-month-old boy, who was left unsupervised with his mentally ill mother by a visitation worker employed by the state-run Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, is being investigated as a homicide, police said today.
The child died about half an hour after the visitation worker left the infant without supervision, police said. An autopsy was being performed Saturday to determine the cause of death.
The death is the latest in a series involving child welfare workers and comes on the heels of a state report released last month that accompanied a plan to beef up programs to keep children at risk of abuse or neglect safe, after a review of more than 600 active Milwaukee child welfare cases.
The review was ordered in May after the Journal Sentinel reported the suffocation death of a toddler, Alicia Burgess, who was left in her home by child welfare workers despite warnings by two doctors that the child and her brother were in danger. Raul Arteaga, 34, the boyfriend of Alicia's mother, is charged with first-degree reckless homicide.
In February the Journal Sentinel reported that a 7-month-old baby starved to death as child welfare workers regularly stopped by her Milwaukee home to check on an older child who had been abused. The bureau had been warned of concerns about the baby's health, but caseworkers reported that the parents refused to let them check on her conditions.
In the latest case, police said the 29-year-old mother lost custody of the infant in July because her mental illness interfered with her ability to care for the child. The baby was then placed in foster care. On October 19th, a niece of the woman was granted custody of the infant by Milwaukee County Children's court and the mother was granted visitation rights, police said. They said they did not know if the visits were supposed to be supervised or unsupervised.
Police gave this account of the events leading up to the baby's death:
The 24-year-old visitation worker picked the infant up from the niece's house at
9:45 a.m. Friday for a visit at the mother's apartment in the 2500 block of W. Wells St. that was to last from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. She told police that she was only supposed to supervise the mother's visit with the infant for the first half hour and the last half hour of the visit and left at 10:30 a.m.
At 10:45 a.m. a mental health social worker who knew the mother was having a visit with the child called to make sure it was going well and was told by the mother that everything was fine. That worker told police that she could hear the baby "cooing" in the background and that the mother was coherent.
At 11:10 a.m. the mother called the mental health worker back and said something
was wrong with the baby and the worker called 911.
Police said they did not know where the baby was when the fire department rescue
squad arrived, but that there was some water in the bathtub.
The mother told police that she overdosed on medications, passed out and indicated that she had left the baby in the bathtub.The mother, who police said suffers from an undisclosed mental illness, was being held at the Milwaukee Mental Health complex.
I understand, even though I disagree with, the right's desire to privatize anything and everything. The thought is that it would save money, although I have not seen any credible proof of this.
But even if this argument, some things should not be done with the bottom line being the driving concern. Some things, like taking care of our children. There is no way this child should have been left alone with this mother without knowing whether she was stable enough to care for the child. Apparently they knew she wasn't, or they would have someone staying for parts of the visits, or checking up on her.
UPDATE: In an update story, MSJ is reporting that the court ordered unsupervised visits. The still does not absolve the Bureau, as that the article also states that the workers never spoke with neighbors, who were aware of the situation. If they had done so, they would have been able to suspend visits and take the issue back to court.
At least there are some reason to hope. When I see stories like this one, I know not all is lost, and that some people still get it.