Monday, December 15, 2008

BMCW: So Much Too Little, Too Late

It appears that Christopher Thomas, the little boy who was killed while under the auspices of the Bureau of Child Welfare, did something that none of the other children who were severely abused and/or killed while in the system had been able to do. It appears that his tragic death did finally bring about a modicum of change to the system.

Crocker Stephenson, the reporter from the local daily newspaper, has a report of a stunning development:

Denise Revels Robinson is stepping down from her position as director of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has learned.

I never thought I'd see the day that Revels Robinson would finally be forced to step down. Unfortunately, it comes about ten years and several innocent lives too late.

Revels Robinson's departure from the BMCW isn't without controversy, either:

In a letter to the state Department of Children and Families and to bureau staff, Robinson, 62, wrote: "I have requested a transfer to another position in the Department of Children and Families.

"The details of my new position are being finalized; however I expect to begin my duties in January 2009."

It is indeed a miscarriage of justice to all those innocent children, like Christopher, who died due to her apathy and incompetence. There is no way that she should be allowed to stay employed by the State. She should have been fired and lost her pension benefits.

While I am disappointed in this maneuvering, I cannot say that I am all that surprised. While some other bloggers, some more respectable than others, express their dismay and outrage at this travesty, they are not seeing the bigger picture.

Obviously, Revels Robinson did not want to get fired, because she is bringing in an over six digit income. Secondly, she does not want to lose her pension, which she would if she were fired.

The state also does not necessarily want to fire her. First of all, if they were to fire her, that would basically be an admission of guilt on the part of the BMCW, and you know that there will be civil lawsuits regarding the death of Christopher and the torture of his sister. Secondly, if they keep her gainfully employed, she is less likely to turn witness against the State in said inevitable lawsuit.

SIDENOTE: This must be a benefit of being connected to the top of the food chain. There are many examples of similar things happening. One example would be Renee Booker. Booker was the director of Milwaukee County Child Welfare, when the county was still providing at least some services to its foster children. Despite being lambasted repeatedly by the State for his poor management skills during his tenure as the Director of Child Welfare for the County, he did a short stint in a made up position at the House of Correction, before being hired by the State, as Deputy Secretary for the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands.

Odds are that given the fact that she is already 62 years old, Revels Robinson will only work a year, maybe two, and then quietly retire.

Even though Revels Robinson is getting off the hook without any real consequences, the fact that she is no longer in charge means a lot. Maybe. Then again, maybe not.

With Revels Robinson no longer holding the reins of her reign of terror, the new director will have a lot of work to do. Besides having to try to restore the public's trust, the new director should take a long and hard look at the Bureau from top to bottom and try to streamline it. They could start with removing some of the redundancy in the multiple forms that must be completed. They would need to set up policies and procedures that are both effective and realistic.

But even with a compassionate, energetic, invested and competent person to direct the BMCW, there will be limits to the good that he or she could accomplish. This is due to some of the inherent flaws in the way the Bureau is structured. I still cannot fathom how anyone sane person could argue that having an agency whose focus is on their bottom line can do this type of work.

If the gentle reader thinks that I am off base saying that there are inherent systematic flaws to the Bureau, let me suggest they think about this: Despite having the state legislature increase the private agencies' social workers pay range to equal those of the state workers (which were much higher than the County was paying its workers, BTW), there is still an alarmingly high level of staff turnover at these agencies. Many of the workers for the private agencies are fresh out of college and have no experience to speak of. How bad is a job that a recently graduated person will walk away from a job that is starting out with a relatively high pay scale?

One thing that needs to be addressed immediately is training. The training has to be up front and comprehensive, before the employee is even allowed to look at a case file. DCF Director Bicha said that he wants to implement a policy that workers visit a child three years old or younger at least twice a month. But what good would it do if the worker did a visit every day if he or she didn't know what to look for?

Unfortunately, even if the new director would be the most competent administrator ever to walk the Earth, the fact is that it is the state legislature and the governor that would have to make sure that there is sufficient resources and staff to do the job properly.

Revels Robinson isn't the only one getting away with murder either. There are those that are above her, like the people that helped create this monstrosity and the people who sit on the board that allegedly oversees it. People like Alberta Darling.

There is also the question of what will happen to the agency operated by Children's Hospital, that is supposed to oversee the licensing of foster homes. They were supposed to have done a review of the aunt before allowing her to take the children. They were also the ones that forced Christopher's former foster mother in taking a psychological evaluation for wanting to adopt the boy, and are still messing around with her and her husband's license, all because they had the nerve to care for and love Christopher. When will this agency be held responsible?

My biggest fear regarding all this is that with Revels Robinson out of the way, and the nice sounding rhetoric by people like Reggie Bachi, people will think that the problem has been solved, when in fact this has been nothing more than the equivalent of a bandage on a wound that require suturing.

I hope I'm wrong, but I have a sick feeling that more children will have to be seriously hurt and, heaven forbid, killed before substantial changes are made to correct child welfare in Milwaukee County.

ADDENDUM I: The MJS now has a more complete report on their site. It is worth the read, especially the latter part when the advocacy groups give their reactions to the news.

ADDENDUM II: I saw on the Channel 58 News an interview with Senator Alberta Darling. She did not hesitate to throw her friend, Revels Robinson, under the bus. Why am I not surprised?

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