Friday, November 14, 2008

Hell Is For Children (At Least In Milwaukee)

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be out of here, but when the story of the little boy that died came on the news, my wife knew I wouldn't find peace until I got this out of my system. No wonder I love that woman.

For those that aren't aware, there is a continuing story of the tragic death of a little baby boy, Christopher L. Thomas, Jr. who was murdered by his own aunt. To make the matter even worse, his two year old sister was tortured for months at the hands of their aunt as well. Indeed, Pat Benatar had it nailed in her song, "Hell Is For Children."

As if the death of the baby and the abuse of the little girl wasn't enough to anger anyone, there is much, much more that outrages me about this story.

As I've mentioned before, in 1996, the Wisconsin State Legislature wrote a line in the budget that the State would take over the child welfare system in any county with a population of over 500,000. There was only one county that fit this description - Milwaukee. That is how the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare was created.

The reason for the takeover stemmed from a federal lawsuit against the state and the county in which it was purported that the rights of Milwaukee County children were being violated because they were languishing in foster care for too long. The state, the county, and the plaintiffs each had their own independent audit done. All three audits came up with the same findings. Namely, that the state was underfunding the county, which prevented the county from meeting federal guidelines and thereby violating the rights of the children.

The state disagreed with the findings of all three audits and claimed that the county was just mismanaging the funds they were being given. The state took over the system in 1998, and allowed Milwaukee County to apply for and subcontract for a greater part of the system. Within three years, the State pushed the County out of the business of taking care of their own children, and gave it to a group of various different private agencies. Many of these agencies have failed miserably, due to precious services dollars going towards all the different administrations. Meanwhile, the children continued to suffer and suffer.

And despite what conservatives might tell you about how privatization, or to be more accurate, profiteering is supposed to save tax payers money, the BMCW started out costing about $40 million more a year than when the county ran it solo. And that was before the state legislature had to pass a special law that the private agencies workers all be given raises to match those of the public sector workers. The reason for that law was because the turnover rate of private agency worker were as high as 67 %, and this was crippling the system. Now, taxpayers are on the hook for half again as much as if the state just funded Milwaukee County the way they should have in the first place.

Even with all that, complaints and issues about BMCW continued to rise to higher and higher levels.

Enough history, back to the case at hand.

Little Christopher and his sister, according to MJS were removed from their parents care about a year ago. The mother was mentally ill and the father was incarcerated. In that year, both children have been bounced from home to home (another thing that BMCW said that they wouldn't do). The boy was eventually placed in a pre-adoptive home, but then was placed with his sister in the home of his aunt and uncle.

Peter DiGuadio, poster boy for the conservative lunatic fringe, really got me angry when he wrote this piece of irresponsible, over the top, racist and ignorant rhetoric:
The little girl had been in the care of a veteran foster parent in Germantown. The two children are black. The birth parents are black; the foster parents in whose home the children suffered are black. The foster parents in West Allis and Germantown are white. Do you see a pattern here?
Race, you see, trumps everything. Child welfare Nazis willing to take children out of loving, supportive foster homes and placed into the homes of blood relatives simply because the foster parents are white and the blood relatives are black, never mind the quality of the environment of the homes of those blood relatives. We’ve seen this type of story over and over again. Looking through the eyes of political correctness, those two children didn’t belong in the loving, caring, nurturing foster homes because the foster parents were white and the children were black. There’s a mentality in the child welfare bureaucracy based out of political correctness that black children must only be raised by black parents.
If that isn’t racist, then I am not sure what would qualify. This from the same people, many of whom push for homosexual couples being allowed to be foster parents and to adopt.
Race probably had very little, if anything, to do with it. When I worked in the system, I had white children adopted by black families and more commonly, black children adopted by white families. What it most likely had to deal with was that they were family.

When the State created the BMCW, they weren't done. They then went on to create Kinship Care. Kinship Care was sold has a way to keep children with family members. All it really was was another way for the State to save money. Kinship Care would put the same abused and/or neglected children with aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, or adult siblings instead of foster care, but only pay the relatives half as much as they would a foster parent. Same needs, same issues, but only half the money.

Kinship Care also saved money in other ways. To have a child adopted, a home would have to be identified, gone through a very thorough and intrusive investigation and study. Then if the home passed muster, the courts would have to go through the lengthy and usually costly procedure of terminating parental rights and then months later the adoption process. After the adoption was completed, the foster parents would receive the higher level of payments of foster care, which was usually subsidized to an even higher level for special needs and to account for other issues. These payments would last until the child was the age of majority.

With Kinship Care, the relative would only receive the much smaller payments. The investigation was minimal and barely adequate in most cases. They also wouldn't end up adopting the children, but only being given guardianship, which could be reversed at any time.

In other words, these kids were removed from their potential permanent placements and put in the home where they would suffer for months and one would eventually be murdered, just to save some money.

Another problem with privatization profiteering of the child welfare system is that it pushed out all the seasoned workers and relied on poorly trained and inexperienced workers fresh out of school. That could explain how the worker, who is supposed to have had monthly visits failed to notice the signs of abuse. They had to be fairly apparent, give the severity of the abuse and the length of time.

But then again, to save money, these inexperienced workers are given heavy caseloads and the expectations put on them are not physically realistic. There are only so many hours in a day, and the amount of work required (including replicative paperwork) times the number of cases often exceeds the time that a person could put into the job.

Compounding the tragedy is the total lack of responsibility and accountability. I'm sure the worker will be fired for whatever reason they concoct, whether it be a justified one or not. But that's where it will stop. The director of BMCW, Denise Revels Robinson, will, as she does every time something like this happens, will say, "We will look into it and make all the corrections needed." But the systematic flaws will remain.

To sum this all up, due to the people in power at the time (Tommy Thompson, Alberta Darling, Margaret Farrow, Scott Walker, and a cast of dozens) it was deemed better to save a couple of bucks by bilking just another social program (always a popular move among Republicans) than have to be responsible members of the community, even if it meant raising taxes a little. Now, ten years later, we still have children being abused and murdered, a child welfare system that is all but broken, and a general sense of apathy in the community, mostly because they don't really know what is going on in their own communities. It's much easier to listen to squawkers like Sykes and Belling rant and rave about imaginary problems like voter fraud or commies/terrorists/bogiemen hiding behing every tree.

And to make the story even sadder, the only person who can claim the body of little Christopher is his mentally ill mother. She has yet to do so. He's been abandoned and abused over and over, even in death.

And if you have made it all the way through this long, long treatise, I thank you for your time and applaud you for your stamina. And whether you read the whole thing, or just scrolled to the bottom, I encourage you to check out Other Side's eloquent (and much shorter) post on this tragedy.


  1. I really can't disagree with you cap.

    BUT here is the one thing that is being left out. THE SOCIAL WORKER did not do his/her job. PERIOD!! End of story.

    It doesn't matter if the state took over BCS. It doesn't matter if BCS is underfunded or any other excuse that can and will be made.

    The Social Worker contributed to this boys death by not doing the job that we taxpayers pay them to do.

    And in my mind that is a criminal offense. Accessory after the fact perhaps?

    If the case worker had been doing their job the abuse would have been discovered and steps to remove the kids from an abusive Aunt could have been taken.

    But as usual in cases like this NOTHING will get done unless calling for MORE funding next year qualifies as doing something.

  2. I agree with michael. Had the social worker did their job, this probably would not have happened. This boils down to personal responsibility and the social worker blew it. The fact no one has been suspended, pending an investigation, shows that whoever is in charge, they really don't care.
    As Belling pointed out, why are not the black politicians crying bloody murder (sorry about the bad pun, it really fits)
    Ultimately, the person responsbilbe is the evil woman who murdered this poor kid. 2nd in responsibility is the social worker.

  3. I'd agree with both of you with one caveat. I do not know what the social worker's case load is. There are federal guidelines on what is deemed a reasonable caseload. If the BMCW exceeded this case load recommendation, one could argue mitigating circumstances.

    If the case load is too high, then there is a systematic problem. If the caseload isn't too high, then it lies solely on the worker.

    @Michael, I don't necessarily think more funding is needed. I think if it was returned to one entity, either state or county, it would be more than doable with current funding levels. But right now, we are paying for multiple administrations, and not for services.

  4. I do agree with you capper. If the worker had an impossible case load I may give them a break.
    To be honest, I think the county should be the running the child protective services instead of the state.
    For some perspective. In Vegas, we have a community called Child Haven. It is an institution for for kids who are in danger. From infants to teenagers. If a child is in danger, and there is no place to place them, they are sent to Child Haven. It is a series of cottages that house these kids. Do I it better than foster care? Not sure. Some kids have died at Child Havemn, mostly from infections.
    Damned if you don't and damned if you do. I just wish we would would never would be in this situation.

  5. Having an "impossilbe case load" is not an acceptable excuse for what happened to this little boy. If you are a licensed social worker and you are unable to do your job (protecting children) due to the amount of cases you are responsible for it is time to sound the alarm. You do whatever it takes to make sure every child is monitored properly so no child gets murdered the way this little boy did. There is nothing more cowardly and unforgivable than when something like this happens and the adults (professionals) start making redundant and self-serving excuses.

  6. Anony,

    When the state privatized child welfare, the social workers also lost their union. I personally know workers who brought up concerns about caseloads, etc. and were fired for questioning the powers that be.

    There is nothing wrong with pointing out the facts. What is wrong is denying that there are systematic flaws, and that these flaws cost the boy his life and have scarred the girl for life.

  7. Just curious, How is the BMCW considered privatizing when it is run by the State?
    What's even more sad, no one has been fired or even suspended, as far as we know. If it were any other job- cop, group home worker, nurse etc, you know there would be firings or suspensions and a criminal probe.
    In my professional life, I have dealt with "child advocates" in child protective services and have found they, for the most part, are as big a problem as the adults who abuse children.

  8. That is why I said you do whatever it takes. If you lose your job because you dared to question those people who are incompetent (and in power) you keep going. We are talking about the lives of children. It's wrong to speak out only when something like this little boy's murder happens.

  9. Dan-

    Give it time. Even though the public may want a knee jerk reaction, they have to justify it first. You know, with actual proof.


    That is easier said than done in today's economy. But for what it's worth, I left the system in 2001 because I could not ethically work for it, seeing the direction it was headed. And as for pointing out the systematic flaws, I've done that more than once, for over a year now. Or go to folkbum's rambles and rants, and do a search for child welfare for my other posts on the issue.

  10. More needs to be done, ASAP. Where are the watchdog groups and investigative reporters? Children who are in the system - are getting placed with abusive people who murder them, and no one is looking into what the hell is going on? That is unacceptable.

  11. My understanding, anony, is that Crocker Stephenson, the reporter covering this story, has been stonewalled by the BMCW, who keeps citing confidentiality in order to preserve their cover up.

  12. Ah, yes, of course. I had forgotten about the confidentiality they use to hide behind when dealing with children. Well, he needs to continue on regardless. Maybe he can find an insider who is willing to help him (*confidentially* of course).