Saturday, December 13, 2008

MJS Editorial Board: Failure Number Four And It's A Doozy

What a difference a few hours make. I noticed that this morning's paper has two items about the foster care system, which are different that what I just wrote about last night.

One is the article. Instead of it being Crocker Stephenson, who wrote the article I linked to in last night's post, today's piece is a collaboration between Gina Barton and Meg Kissinger. The stories are fairly much the same, but with two additions to the new one. One is that they add some meat and some emphasis to the part of the story of how La Causa was cutting corners and how this led up the system's failure.

The second part is a little more interesting:

Bringing nurses into the foster care system is one way to ensure other children don't suffer as Christopher and his sister did, said Reggie Bicha, secretary of the state's Department of Children and Families. After all the youngest foster children have been examined, nurses will examine the 4- and 5-year-olds in the system.

"We will see each of those kids and make sure that they are safe," Bicha said.

The nurses will likely be hired and begin their work early next year. In addition, caseworkers will be required to double the number of home visits they make for children under 3 - from once a month to twice a month.

Could this be the review by Children's Hospital and Health System that was referred to in the story by Stephenson? Wouldn't that be just fabulous. The State investigates the State, and the private agency can now investigate the private agency. Can you spell cover up?

Add to that the nurse thing is not a new idea. When the County had control over the system, public health nurses were standard protocol. When the Bureau took over, the nurses were deemed to be too expensive and not necessary. So now we are paying tens of millions of dollars extra in tax monies to have the same system we had before, but only with extra layers of administration to suck up dollars instead of it actually providing services.

The other piece in this morning's paper is the editorial on the matter. The board falls all over itself in praising Bicha and the Bureau for reinventing the wheel at a higher price to taxpayers, and for doing exactly has I said they would two weeks ago, which was a bunch of nothing. Just like they did in the previous two editorials on the subject, the board fails to look in their own archives to see that nothing really has changed.

When I first started in child welfare, I had to go through six weeks of classroom training before I looked at a live case. I also had to go through a week of training just to learn the state statutes regarding child welfare and another several weeks of shadowing experienced workers before I was allowed to work my caseload, and then it was under careful supervision. In that training, we were taught my medical professionals on what all the different signs of abuse were, how to recognize them, how they were caused, and that once we saw these telltale signs, we needed to get the child to the doctor immediately for a formal diagnosis and treatment.

Apparently, training is too expensive, or they have less respect for their employees. I base that on this paragraph from the editorial (emphasis mine):
Officials overseeing the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare told the Editorial Board Friday that, as a result of the death, it is instituting sweeping reforms to prevent recurrence of this kind of tragedy. This includes having every child age 3 and under in foster care evaluated by a nurse during home visits. Social workers are not medical professionals and can miss the red flags of physical abuse.
Guess the system is not all that improved after all. At least it doesn't seem that way to anyone with knowledge on the history of the system, or someone that can do some basic investigation.

The board's summary paragraphs highlight why the system continues to get away with not doing anything to actually fix the system, but just offering placebos of the usual rhetoric:

Bicha said other contractors will be similarly reviewed. But perhaps the best news Friday was the added resources the agency is now committing to home visits and to keeping foster children safe.

Bicha argued that the system is full of hard-working people, dedicated to ensuring that the state's most vulnerable children have safe homes. We agree. Error or negligence that contributes to the death of one child is one death too many.

The agency's response to this death is reasonable, measured - and needed. Now the task is to make sure no one shrinks from this commitment.

Let's keep this in mind when the next foster child is severely abused or killed while under the BMCW's supervision. Nothing of substance has changed, except for the addition of what the county had already been providing. We'll see what these public watchdogs have to say then.


  1. I guess my question is this: Why are the social workers the only ones who can work on these cases. Why can't a former cop, teacher, firefighter or anyone else with experience with children be able to work for CPS. When you just have a bunch social workers working a case, they just don't get the same perspective if you have a variety of people with different life experiences working within CPS. I say get rid of a bunch of social workers and hire people who have life experience and maybe that can help solve the problem.

  2. Side note - does anyone know how Christopher's sister is doing?

  3. Dan-

    When it was a county run system, the only requirement was a BA, regardless of major. The state has since passed a law requiring the worker to be also certified as a social worker, and the only way to be certified is to take certain social worker classes and then pass the certification test. I don't know why they did that for sure, but I've always suspected it was a way to raise revenue.


    The last report I saw is that she is still in the hospital recovering from her injuries.