Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BMCW: Fails To Protect Children And The Truth

Crocker Stephenson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a story in today's paper regarding the latest report on the progress of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. Even though his reporting is incomplete, it still tells a damning story regarding the BMCW and the extremes they will go to to protect themselves. MJS was kind enough to provide us with a copy of the actual report from the BMCW, in pdf format.

Mr. Stephenson's reporting is incomplete when he gives a version of the history that created the BMCW:

By all accounts, Milwaukee County in the early 1990s had one of the worst foster care programs in the nation. Many children languished in the system for years without a coherent plan that would enable them to either reunify with their parents or be adopted.

Children's Rights Inc., then the American Civil Liberties Union's Children's Rights Project, filed a suit in federal court in 1993 on behalf of 5,000 children receiving welfare services in Milwaukee County.

In response to the lawsuit, the state took over the county system in 1998, creating the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, which is part of the state Department of Children and Families. The DCF, headed by Secretary Reggie Bicha, is itself not quite a year old.

What is not being reported is that the system was struggling due to severe underfunding from the State. Take it from someone who was there during that mess, when it would not be unusual for one worker to be responsible for over a hundred cases. Even now, they are receiving tens of millions of dollars more, and despite their claims, things have actually gotten worse. And that is still not enough. In Doyle's most recent budget proposal, there is a request for 15 more State workers, three more State supervisors and more money to increase the number of foster homes and Kinship homes and to pay the foster/Kinship parents better.

It is also interesting to note that some of the "improvement" that the BMCW is claiming is things that the County had done when they were in charge, but were deemed to be too expensive by the state, like nurses going out to check on medically fragile children and newborns.

Despite these lapses in the reporting, the bulk of the story matches what has been happening for the past ten years. The state is fudging the numbers around to protect their own butts with a complete disregard to the children they are supposed to be serving.

On a side note, does anyone know of any agency, public or private, that has ever honestly reported on itself? Why does the State think that the BMCW would be any different?

They claim that the number of children in alternative care is within the "acceptable range." However, they do not include the children that are placed in Kinship Care homes, that are being abused. The most noted in recent history is the murder of Christopher L. Thomas and the torture of his little sister. It is mind-boggling that the BMCW, which had just undergone a major shake up due to this one story, now chooses to ignore it in their semi-annual report. I am sure that it just the tip of the iceberg as well.

The BMCW also has a problem being forthright about the staff turnover rate. The BMCW manipulates the statistics in such a way as to make it seem like the turnover rate is much less than it really is. While the Bureau is reporting a turnover rate of ongoing case managers (that's the private agencies) is about 35%, the real number is almost double that and is close to 60%.

This is significant because it can disrupt the services that the children, the parents, and the foster parents are receiving. This can hinder, disrupt, or even completely sabotage any long range planning that is in place for the child. It also serves to make the entire Bureau more expensive to operate since there is a continuous need to train new workers.

It should be noted that the private agency workers who do the ongoing are getting paid amounts similar to the State workers. This would indicate that that the problem is with the system itself, which is something that I've repeatedly pointed out.

I've been out of the child welfare system for over seven years, but even then, the amount of redundant paperwork was incredible. This bureaucratic nightmare does nothing to help the children, and actually impedes the ability of the worker to actually do their job, like seeing the children to make sure they aren't being abused, or that progress is being made in the permanency planning for the child.

As I have repeatedly stated, the system is broken. No matter how much money they throw at it, it will not be fixed until they change the entire paradigm and approach that they are taking regarding child welfare. There is a reason why case workers are leaving at alarmingly high rates. There is a reason why a majority of foster parents have quit. There is a reason that, despite the larger amount of workers and money being pumped into the system, children are still being hurt.

Until the State gets rid of that broken and ineffective paradigm, and replaces it with a functional program, nothing will change. And more kids will be hurt and/or killed. And that is unacceptable.


  1. So, then, what is your solution? You can say, dump the program, but what do you replace it with? Is there a model of a large city that has a successful program?
    Having dealt with various social service agencies over the years, I can honestly say, whether it is a large city or small, I have not seen a program that works well.

  2. I don't think that there is any one program that can work perfectly. That would require people to always be perfect.

    There are many other models out there that would work much better. Unfortunately, I can't name any specific ones without giving it much research.