Thursday, January 8, 2009

Alberta Darling Does The Right Thing For The Wrong Reasons

The other day, State Senator Alberta Darling (R-The 19th Hole) announced that she has asked that there be an audit of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. I fully and whole-heartedly commend her on her action. This request comes on the heels of the public outrage created by the death of Christopher L. Thomas, Jr.

The last audit was done in 2005, and had disturbing results:
A 2005 audit of Milwaukee County's child welfare program, released in early 2006, found private agencies spending thousands of dollars on gifts for employees, as well as delays in services to children in foster care and to their families, glacial child abuse investigations and an overwhelming level of caseworker turnover.
Unfortunately, Darling seems unable to do the right thing without screwing things up.

First, she tells us that there was this:

"More than 20 children have died in 2006, 2007 and 2008 that were known to the BMCW," Darling (R-River Hills) wrote in a letter to the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) and Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).

"We need this audit to determine if our kids are safe and if so, why children are dying," she wrote.

Let us look past the completely asinine remark of "if the children are safe, why are they dying." Hello? Alberta? If the kids were safe, they wouldn't be dying. Duh!

My question, and one that I hope Mr. Stephenson asks her someday, is this: Why did 20 children have to die before she finally decided to take action?

She keeps priding herself on her involvement in the foster care system that she created and oversaw for the last 10 years. She meets every three months with the oversight committee. At these meetings, they are informed of these deaths. It took her three years and 20 lost lives before she figured out something was wrong? If that is the case, she then needs to immediately step down from the committee and let someone who is both committed and competent to attend these meetings and monitor the system.

But that's not all. She goes on with this:

"We are spending more than $100 million each budget cycle on Milwaukee child welfare and we are serving fewer and fewer kids," Darling wrote.

"Yet significant issues persist like access to dental care, caseworker turnover, and re-entry into the system by children who have been re-unified with their parents."

So she says that she knows that there are ongoing problems, yet she waits until now to do something? They are serving about one half of the number of kids when I was in the system, yet they are spending tens of millions of dollars more each year. Where is all that money going, besides into the pockets of the administration of all of the private agencies? It sure as hell doesn't appear to be going to providing services to the children or their families.

Darling also goes on to question if the state is "approaching child welfare from the perspective of what is in the best interest of the child or if we are placing too much emphasis on supporting the needs of biological family members who neither want nor should be caring for children."

I shouldn't have to remind the Senator that there are federal and state regulations that require that due and diligent services be provided in an effort to reunite the family, without endangering the children. I also shouldn't have to remind her that the system that she created and that she oversaw, had a lot of incentives for the private agencies to close cases as quickly as possible. The agencies were paid a fixed amount of dollars for every case they managed, whether it lasted ten years, one year, one months or a couple of days. Obviously, the faster they moved a case on, the bigger amount of profit they made.

While it is not the most egregious of Darling's mistakes, one other thing is worth noting. Basically, it is when she wrote this:

Darling wrote that a new audit was needed "to determine if the evaluation conducted in 2005 has led to shifts in policy that better protect the taxpayers of our state."
No, Senator Darling. What you should be worried about is if the best interest of the children are being protected, not the taxpayer. That would be a pleasant change of pace for both you and the BMCW.

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