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  • February 22, 2018

    A Need for Solutions: Out-of-state Youth Residential Care Placements Doubled in 2017

    With more than 110 court-ordered out-of-state mental health residential care placements for youth in 2017, the lack of in-state options is of deep concern for many in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The upward trend is a disturbing one, says Eileen Fredericks.

    Eileen E. Fredericks

    worried child

    In 2017, Wisconsin placed 119 children in out-of-state residential care centers (RCCs). This is up from 59 in 2016, 40 in 2015, and 25 in 2014.

    A lack of local, in-state mental health treatment options is becoming a huge concern for many stakeholders in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

    Even as we send more and more children out of state, local RCCs are closing. This past summer, two Milwaukee-area RCCs closed – Carmelite Residential Care Center and Saint A’s Residential Care Center.

    Wisconsin has children to place, but the needs of these youth are seemingly too high for many of the service providers in state. Wisconsin’s lack of mental health treatment options for youth is costly in more ways than one – not the least of which is the impact on the youth in being so far from home.

    Being Far From Home

    Putting children in residential care centers hundreds of miles away from their families removes them from everyone and everything they know. It makes it very difficult for parents and children to visit one another; in a lot of ways, these children are on their own. Social workers cannot have the same knowledge and experience with placements when the placements are all over the country and many are a lengthy plane ride away.

    Eileen Fredericks Eileen Fredericks, UW 2005, is an attorney and Juvenile Practice Group coordinator with the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office, Madison, where she represents children in delinquency and CHIPS proceedings, and parents in termination of parental rights cases.

    Stakeholders are looking for ways to fill this void and keep children closer to home while also allowing them to receive much needed treatment.

    Where They Are

    As of Feb. 1, 2018, Wisconsin has 54 youth in out-of-state placements. The children in these placements range from 9 to 17 years old.

    The children are spread out over the country in 12 different states, including Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Additionally, facilities in California, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming have been utilized by courts for Wisconsin youth in recent years.

    The state with the greatest number of Wisconsin out-of-state youth is Tennessee. Youth Villages in Tennessee currently houses 19 Wisconsin children.

    A Visit to Tennessee

    In recognition of the need for more mental health options in Wisconsin – particularly residential care centers – staff from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) visited their counterparts in Tennessee this fall.

    While in Tennessee, DCF staff reviewed child welfare placement practice, administrative rules, Medicaid reimbursement, and legislative rules related to group home and residential care placement. Tennessee allows use of cameras and locked doors in facilities, which are not currently utilized in Wisconsin.

    DCF is currently reviewing the information collected during the visit, and Youth Villages may serve as a model for creating mental health treatment options here in Wisconsin. Legislative changes may be sought in order for a facility like Youth Villages to open in Wisconsin.

    Administrators at Youth Villages do not believe their model can be successful without the use of cameras and locked doors.

    A Need for an Overhaul

    This need for an overhaul in mental health treatment for children in our child welfare and juvenile justice system comes at an inopportune time, as so much focus is currently on the closing of Lincoln Hills and the new regional correctional facilities that will replace Lincoln Hills.

    The need for appropriate residential care centers for youth certainly cannot be solved by the new regional facilities, as these facilities will be correctional facilities. And though the new facilities should have very good mental health treatment, they will not be appropriate for many of the children that are currently receiving treatment out of state, especially considering that the majority of youth in out-of-state care are under CHIPS orders. Of the 54 youth currently placed out-of state, 43 of these children are on CHIPS orders. The 54 youth currently out of state come from over 20 different counties in the state.

    Addressing the Issue

    As the lack of treatment options is a statewide problem, stakeholders will continue to come together to address this issue, and hopefully 2018 will be a year of solutions to Wisconsin’s placement woes.

    One example of stakeholder efforts is the Children with Complex Needs Workgroup, chaired by the Wisconsin Association of Family and Children’s Agencies (WAFCA) and Rock County. This workgroup is working with current providers in Wisconsin to see what current providers are willing to try to improve options for children who need a higher level of care, and to see how WAFCA can support these efforts.

    Special CLE Event: Tackling the Stigma - Children, Families and Mental Health

    For more information on working with children’s cases involving mental health issues, attend the Children and the Law Section’s special CLE Event, Learning Law at Lambeau: Tackling the Stigma: Children, Families and Mental Health, on April 26, 2018, in Green Bay.

    Programming runs 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a reception to follow. Topics include:

    • Recognizing and Overriding Our Unconscious Biases
    • Individualized Education Plans
    • Juvenile Mental Health Commitments under Chapter 51: A Perspective from Petitioners and Defense Attorneys
    • Ethics in Representing a Cognitively-disabled Parent or Child

    To register and for more information, visit’s Marketplace.

    This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Children & the Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.

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    Children & the Law Blog is published by the Children & the Law Section and the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Christie Christie and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Children & the Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

    © 2023 State Bar of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158.

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