Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Unions Ask For Action, Pols Remain Useless

In the wake of the tragic death of Christopher Thomas, AFSCME, the union representing government workers, have asked the state legislature to listen to their concerns in an effort to improve the child welfare system:

"We are writing today to ask for an opportunity to share with you our concerns about the dysfunctional environment that has existed at the bureau for a long time," Marty Beil, the union's executive director, and Susan McMurray, a lobbyist, wrote in a letter to the Milwaukee delegation to the Wisconsin legislature.

The letter ticks off a list of concerns - a shortage of social workers, high staff turnover, lack of support, insufficient training, inadequate oversight, lack of coordination between the Milwaukee bureau and private child welfare agencies - "all of which make it extremely difficult for social workers to provide the vital child protection services the workers were hired to provide."

Owen Robinson thinks that they are all wrong, and are trying to take advantage of this tragedy:
Christopher’s death could have been prevented if the bureaucrats on staff DID THEIR JOB? We don’t need more social workers or training or whatever. We need government bureaucrats to take their jobs seriously.
Presuming that Owen was referring to people like Denise Revels Robinson, he only gets very partial credit for that comment. Revels Robinson needs to be fired. She actually should have been fired years ago. But even if she were to be fired, it wouldn't go far to fix they child welfare system.

When I worked in the system, before the state took over, we also had federal and state guidelines we had to meet. But the system was much more streamlined then.

For example, we, as workers, would have to prepare and present a report to the courts in order to get an order to keep the child(ren) in foster care. Another report would have to be submitted every year in order to have the order extended. In the pre-takeover days, these reports would be about seven to ten pages, depending on how many kids there were, the history of the case, other influences in the matter, etc. After the state took over, the new reports would be three times as long, and would say less. So they invented supplemental forms to the reports. Then they would invent supplement forms to the supplement forms that would reiterate what was said in the other documents. You get the drift.

To make things even worse, all of these reports had to be completed via a special state computer program invented by the state and only with that program. The problem was the computer program didn't work very well, and saved information would often be lost, required the worker to start all over again.

And that was just one aspect of the job. Despite the increase in documentation, and the subsequent increase in time needed to complete all of the required forms, case loads either stayed the same or actually went up to the point that it was nearly physically impossible to meet all of the guidelines.

And yes, it was bureaucrats like Revels Robinson that kept coming up with these duplicative and cumbersome forms.

What Owen fails to understand is that the creation of the Bureau and its bureaucrats and multiple, redundant forms did nothing to solve the original problem, which is that the child welfare system was being underfunded and that caseloads were too high. Those problems still remain.

Meanwhile, our elected leaders continue to fail the foster kids and their foster parents.

Mayor Tom Barrett has been completely mute on the subject. Is he even still the mayor?

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has also said nothing about the matter. He is probably trying to pick out the colors for the yard signs as he prepares for the next phase in his perpetual run for governor.

Speaking of governors, Jim Doyle has been disappointingly quiet on this. He is probably too busy going to Washington to ask Santa Congress for all the goodies he wants for Christmas.

The entire state legislature is also eerily silent on the matter, except for Representative Zepnick, who has called for an investigation, and Senator Alberta Darling who said she would present a bill to make the system more transparent. I would think it would be better to present a bill to actually fix the system, but what do I know. I only worked on the front line, and saw what worked and what didn't.

Isn't it past time that we start holding these elected officials accountable for doing the job that we elected them to do? Or do we only do that with the workers who are being kept from doing their jobs the way their supposed to?


  1. Here's where I disagree with you capper. I realize the form problem can be a problem, but in this case, it seems like the social worker involved just didn't make the right observations, didn't make the observations in a timely manner and used poor judgement.

  2. We have to file MANY government forms for compliance with government regulations at my company. I completely understand.

    I think that is where some of the inherent conflict comes with the discussion between government-run divisions and privatization. In normal circumstances, the private sector is more efficient. It is when you have this quasi-private/quasi-government situations, the worst of both systems seem to become the standard.

    While, on one level, I disagree that the Milwaukee County Board could do this any better, I am getting sickened by the way that this society allows children to be treated. Somehow, I think the true answer to this is something that would be completely and politically unacceptable to the county, the state, AFSCME, the private agencies - everyone. Which is exactly why nothing will change. Nobody has the political fortitude to do the right thing

    God Bless you capper for the work you have done. As I have written to you before, I would be homicidal doing the same.


  3. Dan-

    I would agree with you if this were just an isolated incident, but there has been ten deaths in the last eighteen months. That is a sign that this is more than a worker screwing up. This is systematic.


    Thank you for your kind words. It is not always easy.

    I do think that the bureaucrats do put so many regulations and forms in so that it is easier for them to deny payments to the people providing the services or just to give people help. After all, foster kids don't vote and they don't make campaign contributions.

  4. Semi-related:

    JSOnline id's the agency as La Causa. Here's their homepage:

    This is part of Children's Hospital?

  5. No, you silly.

    The state itself runs the intake phones and initial investigations (the law requires that that job is done by a governmental agency). La Cause has one small section of the county (the near south side). Children's Hospital has all of the rest of the county, licensing and adoptions.