Friday, December 12, 2008

Pray For The Children

Just over two weeks ago, on the Thanksgiving Day evening, I wrote a post about what I thought would be needed to fix the foster care system in Milwaukee County. I mentioned things like firing Denise Revels Robinson, bringing the system back to local control and de-privatizing the system.

At the end of the same post, I wrote this:
The way the news is playing out, I have two suspicions. One, the worker(s) responsible are employees of a private agency, else they would have been named already. Secondly, giving my more than passing familiarity with the system and the games they like to play, I would not be at all surprised to find out that the case was assigned to a vacant work zone, and the name of the worker is someone that had already left the agency, or had just been hired but wasn't really on the job yet. The BMCW and its subcontractors like to administratively fudge things like this to keep costs down and still remain in compliance with state and federal regulations.
Unfortunately, today I was proven to be right on the money with those suspicions.

Today, the director the state's Department of Children and Families, Reggie Bicha, issued a press release and held a press conference regarding the death of Christopher L. Thomas Jr., a little baby boy that was severely abuse and tortured and eventually murdered by his aunt/foster mother. From his press release:
In violation of BMCW policy, La Causa gave a new ongoing case manager on a training team primary case worker responsibility and did not provide sufficient supervision or mentoring. The investigation found that the case manager failed to conduct effective face-to-face visits with the children and caregivers and did not effectively assess the safety of the home where both Baby Christopher and his sister were placed.
La Causa is one of the two private agencies that are contracted to the BMCW. They provide ongoing case management for the neighborhoods on the city's near south side. The rest of the county as well as foster home licensing and adoptions are contracted out to a subsidiary of Children's Hospital.

Crocker Stephenson, the reporter that has been doing a most excellent job at covering this case for the local paper, also covered the press conference. He also spoke to the head of La Causa, who told Mr. Stephenson this:

He said the case worker is still with the agency and seeing cases but under a different supervisor. He said she's been given additional training and "everything she needs to succeed."

He added: "Just because the public is saying she should be crucified, I can't do that. We have rules, regulations and policies. These people are killing themselves day in and day out in one of the hardest jobs you can imagine."

Cardona said the case worker involved was hired in June and that this was her first job in the business. He would not say anything else about her.

As you can see, I was right on target. It was a private agency, and the worker was brand new to the job and wasn't even trained sufficiently to do full case management, but had a full, active caseload assigned to her anyway.
I don't know the woman that is being referred to, but if past practice is any indication, she is probably a young kid just out of college and just entering the profession. There is nothing wrong with that, but then the BMCW should have made damn sure she was trained fully and that she was properly supervised before giving her a full caseload. But then, that would cost money. And when you have multiple administrations to pay for, you can't be worried about making sure the front line staff is properly trained.

And it only goes downhill from here. Bicha blames La Causa for not following Bureau policies and threatens to end their contract in three months unless they can show sufficient improvement in their performance. Now where did I see that before? Oh yeah, I wrote that as well, nine days ago, in this post.

Bicha also stated that workers are now going to have to double their visits on children three years old or younger. What he doesn't say is that he is going to give them the extra resources or workers to do double the work.

The system is already plagued with the problems of being understaffed, too high caseloads, unrealistic expectations and an unacceptably high level of employee turnover. He just proposed to make it worse. Whenever they get around to actually fixing foster care and firing Revels Robinson, they should fire this guy as well.

Then there's this tidbit from the press release:
DCF also plans to work with Children’s Hospital and Health System to conduct a health and safety review of all children age three and younger in out-of-home care.
So Children's Hospital has something like 75 or 80% of ongoing case management, foster home licensing, adoption AND health care provision. That raises some red flags for me. Who are they paying off to get an almost complete monopoly on child welfare? It seems to me like that there may be more to the story than meets the eye. And then there's my inherent distrust of having any private agency in a position where they are balancing their bottom line to the safety of children.

I hate to say this, but I am starting to think that little Christopher, like all of the others that died before him, has died in vain. The state has announced that not only are they not going to fix the broken system that allowed this sort of thing to happen over and over, they are actually going to make it worse.

Even if La Causa were to lose their contract, it would only be another private agency that would take their place, most likely Children's Hospital, which would give them the entire system that they legally could administer. And the same problems would keep recurring.

Folks, I don't know how else to say it. The system is broke. And due to the short-sightedness and/or apathy of or elected misleaders, it won't be fixed for a long, long time, if ever. I only see two possible outcomes from the current situation.

One is that we, the voters and taxpayers and citizens, start holding the governor and the state legislature responsible for doing their jobs to put into place real solutions. All we are getting now are meaningless statements and cover ups.

If we don't hold our elected misleaders' collective feet to the fire, the other only possibility will happen. The system will fall into federal receivership. And for my friends on the right, if you think your taxes are too high now, you've seen nothing like when the feds take over.

And for now, I don't care if you're a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan or even an atheist, pray to whatever God or Higher Power you pray to for the sake of the children. It may be the only service that they receive.


  1. Is there any good models to copy from within the U.S. I have dealt with CPS agencies in Milwaukee, small towns in wI and now in Las Vegas. They all suck. So, where are they doing it right?

  2. That raises some red flags for me. Who are they paying off to get an almost complete monopoly on child welfare?

    You're making quite a leap to infer that Children's is 'paying off' someone for that contract.

  3. Am I, Dad? They went from two of five districts of ongoing care to two of three districts, plus licensing, plus adoptions, and now the public health nurses.

    It would be interesting to see what politicians are receiving campaign donations from CH's executives. From my limited abilites and snooping, it appears to be much as I would suspect.

    And for Dan, I don't know which systems are better. It is the old adage of only hearing the bad, never the good. I do know many states that had gone to a privatization or a statewide mode are going back to local, public mode, due to the problems that they've had.

  4. Still a leap.

    Just because I donate money to Sensenbrenner doesn't mean that he does what I ask him to do.

    You err by reduction in assuming that all contributions are 'quid pro quo.' That assumes that all politicians are corrupt.

    IOW, it's a slander.

  5. From a northern region of WI, your attention and analysis of this topic is welcome and very educational.

    Thanks very much.

  6. That assumes that all politicians are corrupt.

    I never thought I'd see the day that Dad is defending politicians. But it's not all, just most. :)