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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why Aren't We Doing This?

by capper

In an article in yesterday's paper, there is a report about a study comparing the differences between foster care systems in the Midwest. Specifically about kids aging out of the system.

In most states, including Wisconsin, kids that are in foster care are cut loose on their 18th birthday. If they haven't graduated from high school by then, the foster care order can be extended for up to a year or until they graduate, whichever comes first.

Illinois takes a different approach. They provide support for their foster kids until the age of 21 years, which is closer to the norm of a child that was raised in their natural parents' home. The study found this:

According to the report, youths who remain in state care until age 21 are 3 1/2 times more likely to attend college and more than twice as likely to complete at least one year of college than those who leave care at 18.

Each additional year in state care is associated with increased earnings of about 17%, the study says, and remaining in state care until age 21 is associated with a 38% reduction in the risk of becoming pregnant during late adolescence.

In other words, for spending a little money now, taxpayers can save a lot of money later on not having to pay for incarcerations, additional insurance for the kids of foster kids, and other associated costs to society. It also helps these foster kids have a better chance of succeeding and becoming more productive members of society, not to mention that it keeps from totally abandoning kids that have already been abandoned, emotionally, if not physically, by their natural parents.

And for the conservative readers, yes, this type of support can be and is offered by private agencies. Off the top of my head, I can think of Pathfinders and Walker's Point Youth & Family Center, which already offer similar programs, with wonderful success rates.

Yet besides what would seem like a no-brainer for politicians from either party, nothing is being done about this. It helps children who have already been abused and/or neglected, it saves money for the taxpayers, and it makes the community a better place. The only reason I can think of for our leaders' failure to act is two-fold. One, social services are rarely popular among the conservatives, no matter how much they may actually save. Second, foster kids usually don't have enough money to be politically influential.

So, why isn't the state-operated Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare providing these services? And if Governor Jim Doyle and his state agency can't see past their noses and campaign coffers, why isn't Scott Walker taking action on this? After all, it would benefit Milwaukee County citizens and taxpayers as well.

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