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    Wisconsin Legislature Takes an Active Interest in Foster Care Issues

    The Wisconsin Legislature’s new Task Force on Foster Care represents an opportunity to make meaningful change to keep children safe and to help Wisconsin families be successful, writes Sarah Henery, who encourages those with ideas to get involved.

    Sarah Henery

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    On June 28, 2017, Speaker of the House Robin Vos announced the creation of the Task Force on Foster Care.

    In recognition of the increase in children in out-of-home care statewide, and of the large representation of children ages 2-4 and 14-16 in the system, the speaker has challenged the bipartisan committee with developing ideas to improve the foster care system.

    The co-chairs of the committee are Representative Patrick Snyder and Steve Doyle. Thus far, the task force has held public hearings in Marathon, Iowa, LaCrosse, and Milwaukee counties. A public hearing will likely occur in Green Bay in the coming weeks. The Wisconsin Legislature’s website has information on this new task force.

    The Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care

    The creation of a task force to look at foster care issues in Wisconsin is timely.

    Last year, the United States Congress proposed the Families First Act, which would have been the most significant change to federal funding for child welfare spending since Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA).

    Sarah Henery gov sarah.henery wisconsin Sarah Henery, U.W. 2010, is an Attorney Supervisor with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Milwaukee, where she provides legal advice and guidance on child welfare and administrative law to the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services.

    One of the most dramatic changes contained within that bill was a massive reduction in the provision of federal dollars for congregate care placements (in Wisconsin, group homes, and residential care centers [RCCs]). Two of the aims of that bill were to reduce the use of congregate care placements and instead allocate dollars to States for child welfare preventative services. Child welfare agencies would be challenged to not place children in congregate care facilities other than RCCs when necessary and only if those facilities were able to achieve a complicated federal accreditation.

    A Clear Signal

    Ultimately, that bill was not passed. However, the signal is clear that Congress is interested in finding ways to change the way that we do business in child welfare. There is no doubt that out-of-home care, and particularly congregate care, is a costly way of managing the welfare of children.

    There are many people who believe that we could spend those dollars better on preventing children from coming into foster care in the first place. In Wisconsin, the Department of Children and Families has recently increased funding to assist in implementing intensive in home services statewide. However, it will be a learning process for child welfare professionals to figure out how to shift limited resources to front-end intervention.

    Joining In

    Anyone with thoughts and ideas to improve the system should become part of the task force – or other stakeholder groups – to make meaningful reform in the child welfare system.

    Last year the New Yorker published an excellent piece on the cycle of scandal and reform in child welfare. It described how making changes in the wake of a tragedy can lead to long-term legislative policies that may prevent us from making meaningful change in our communities.

    The task force represents an opportunity to engage with the legislature on meaningful change at a different point in the process and to share ideas on how we can keep kids safe and make our Wisconsin families successful.