By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
The Department of Children and Families’ mandate is to protect, care for, and oversee the well-being of foster children in Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, due to bureaucratic issues and misguided policy, many children – and the public – are getting the short end of the stick.
This is unacceptable as it prevents all Wisconsin residents from receiving the opportunities they need in order to pursue a successful future.
We need to hold Wisconsin, as well as the rest of the nation, to a higher standard when protecting our children, as it is falls to all of us; the larger community, to help those who need it most.
A recent incident involving a mistreated, malnourished 1-year-old speaks volumes to the needed reform for child care services in Wisconsin.
This baby – known only by her initials, B.Y. – had suffered broken ribs, bruises and internal bleeding, and hadn’t gained weight since she was seven months old. The mother was quickly arrested and charged, but the most troubling detail was that she had been the target of numerous allegations of neglect previously. Over a span of five years the mother was named in five complaints. During that time, she was also caring for six other children.
How many of those allegations panned out to real results to intervene and change the negative cycle? Zero.
It is not only the children who are at risk.
The Department of Children and Families must, under law, file a public summary of the case within 90 days.
However, in the case of B.Y., the department insisted on a delay, citing an opinion from law enforcement that the summary would interfere with the investigation.
However, no one from law enforcement ever asked to withhold the information, according to a Journal Sentinel investigation.
After this was brought to light, the offending wording was removed and a spokesman for the department cited “evolving policy” for the delay.
“The public is ill served if information within the report compromises the criminal proceedings,” they said.
My colleague Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) hit the nail on the head when he noted that “Either they don’t understand the law, or they are on the border of ignoring it.”
If the delay was indeed part of a new department policy, it sacrifices the public’s right to know in a timely manner and their safety. Is this trade-off reasonable? I believe it isn’t.
B.Y.’s tragic oversight comes notwithstanding recent efforts to double down on preventing foster care abuse.
In February of this year, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare launched the Care4Kids program, which “creates a medical home for children in foster and other types of out-of-home care”.
Care4Kids established a permanent team of specialists and primary care providers whose duty is to provide foster children with healthcare.
Unfortunately, the program only serves about half of Wisconsin foster children – and only if their health issues are reported.
This leaves room for unwilling or purposefully neglectful parents, for whom the status quo doesn’t change.
Senator Tammy Baldwin recently worked to improve medical coverage for foster children by introducing the Quality Foster Care Services Act.
The proposed bill would look to extend Title XIX (Medicaid) of the Social Security Act to encompass medical assistance for therapeutic Foster Care Services.
Unfortunately, the bill does not have much hope of passing.
As long as our Federal Congress remains unable to act effectively, it is up to Wisconsin to take action and address this problem ourselves. As Wisconsinites, we have shown that we are not willing to stand idle to our own issues.
The Program Care4Kids was recently implemented for five counties in Southeastern Wisconsin, creating a medical facility and establishing medical testing requirements for individuals participating in out-of-home Foster Care.
Although this initiative is a step in the right direction, it will not completely curtail our current foster care issues.
We need to do more to improve communities across our state, and that includes implementing these programs in all counties.
Currently, Care4Kids only applies to roughly 2,600 foster care participants, which only accounts for roughly 33% of all children in the Wisconsin foster care system.
The lack of complete coverage for all children participating in out-of-home foster care elicits the potential for more children to remain neglected, or without complete and comprehensive medical care. The question remains, how many more “B.Y.s” have to suffer because of our inaction?
Almost 8,000 foster children call Wisconsin their home, and it’s time for us to make sure that home treats them right.
We need to ensure that all Wisconsin children are brought up right and with the opportunity to succeed in the future.
We need to start seeing reforms because we can no longer afford to see our children suffer.
It is in their best interest, and ours, to ensure that they live healthy, fulfilling childhoods, guaranteeing that their futures remain bright.