Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Will State Screw Milwaukee?

Expert condemns state for switching Milwaukee’s foster care funding to help other counties.

By - Aug 31st, 2012 10:17 am
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As the state’s biggest city, with the largest number of poor people, Milwaukee has by far the biggest problem with child abuse and neglect. The most recent annual report by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families shows that about 30 percent of all reports of maltreatment of children occurred in Milwaukee County. Their recent monthly report shows that 32 percent of Wisconsin children placed in foster care are in Milwaukee County.

Yet a recent proposal by the state for a federal waiver in how it funds child welfare services would take $1.2 million in program savings realized in Milwaukee and use the money in other counties. Richard Wexler, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, wrote a blog castigating Wisconsin for this. “State wants to rob Milwaukee to aid other counties,” Wexler’s piece is headlined. “In shocking, explicit detail,” he writes, its proposal “would confiscate savings made by improving Milwaukee child welfare and use the money in every Wisconsin county — except Milwaukee.”

Wexler says he could find no other state that proposed to shift the funding in this way. Wisconsin is one of 13 states that have submitted waiver proposals to the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services.

Fredi-Ellen Bove, a division administrator for the State Department of Children and Families, disputes this charge. She says any savings realized by Milwaukee would have reverted back to the federal government.

But the state is asking for a waiver in federal rules. Couldn’t it ask for a waiver so the money saved remains in Milwaukee? Bove concedes the state made a choice to spend the money in a different way. “We reached the conclusion we don’t need waiver dollars to meet the needs in Milwaukee.” Bove says Milwaukee has a stronger support system than other counties, with 12 months of “post-reunification” care by counselors after a child’s case is over, while other counties lack this.

But Rep. Josh Zepnick (D-Milwaukee) questions whether the state is punishing Milwaukee for being more efficient in realizing savings. “This raises questions whether the money could be more efficiently and more humanely spent in the county that serves the most families in Wisconsin,” Zepnick says.

The curious thing about this image of Milwaukee as the super-efficient system is that is has been plagued with problems going back more than a decade. In 1993, the ACLU sued the State of Wisconsin, claiming the child welfare system in Milwaukee was mismanaged and fraught with problems. While things have improved since the state took over Milwaukee County’s system, there are still signs of problems. Wexler has criticized the Milwaukee system, arguing a child here is far more likely to be “torn” from his or her parents and “thrown into foster care” than in other big cities nationally. With more diplomatic language, the Child Welfare Policy and Practice Group has made the same criticism.

Wexler calls that the state’s waiver proposal a “slapdash” effort compared to other states, that emphasizes “soft” services like counseling, instead of concrete help that families need most. He cites studies showing a significant number of children wouldn’t have been removed from their home if their mothers could have afforded better housing and/or day care.  “The biggest single problem in American child welfare is the confusion of poverty with ‘neglect,’” Wexler writes. Money saved in Milwaukee, he argues, could be spent on this and other needs.

State officials argue Milwaukee has made strides with its program, and that the number of children in “out-of-home care” has been dropping steadily.

If so, Wexler says, “these are savings generated by the hard work of Milwaukee caseworkers helping Milwaukee families.  There are plenty more Milwaukee families who would benefit from having these savings reinvested in Milwaukee. How would they feel if the feds said ‘We’re going to take all the savings generated by Wisconsin and use those funds to help families in Minnesota – after all, they need help too.’”

Eric Peterson, chief of staff for state Sen Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) says she does have a concern about this potential loss of funding for Milwaukee.  However, he adds, without the waiver plan being approved by the feds, none of the money for Wisconsin will ever be realized.

But Wexler writes that under Wisconsin’s waiver proposal, “only $7.1 million per year of what is now spent on foster care (in the state) would be shifted to better alternatives. That’s less than 10 percent — and it would take five years even to achieve that.” And 17 percent of what is achieved comes from grabbing the money from Milwaukee.

The Wisconsin proposal, Wexler concludes, “should be sent immediately to the scrap heap.”

Short Take 

Wexler, by the way, has also written critically about the Journal Sentinel and how it covers the foster care issue. Longtime media analyst Erik Gunn has covered that controversy.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

9 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Will State Screw Milwaukee?”

  1. JakeRost says:

    Thank you for writing this. I work for child welfare in Milwaukee, and this is something that cannot happen. Yes numbers have gone down in the amount of cases But we are quickly losing funding. We are starting to get limited resources, less money to help these families, and most of all the children. A lot of people turn a blind eye to child welfare, or just don’t understand it. It is very prevalent in Milwaukee, it would be a shame to take money from Milwaukee and not let the count use it.

  2. blurondo says:

    This all very typical of the Republicans and Scott Walker. It’s the cold “They don’t vote for us so let’s punish them” approach which discounts the human needs of a community.
    They then send the financial aid to places that vote their way, regardless of the need, thus making themselves look like heroes.
    There is no such thing as “the common good” within the right wing.

  3. Lurch_Wis says:

    So uhm with all the reckless behavior in the inner city of spitting out 10’s of 1000’s of kids into poverty with absolutely no intention of raising them to understand right from wrong, much less instill good sense of values and the lefties here are demanding that I be made beholden to “the common good”? Forget it, and any other gerund phrase that begins with the letter F, when it comes to spending money on keeping children with bad/irresponsible parents.
    It has been well known for over a generation now that children are the most adaptable people on the planet when they are placed in a healthy situation and it doesn’t matter if that includes the parents. The silly social programs refuse to read the memo. Two of my cousins have been young-child foster parents across three decades now and they are extremely good at what they do. Those children’s parents? Hmmm.. I support the idea of continuing foster parent programs but it is one shoe legislation at best because it rewards the bad parents. Need to do something about the irresponsible behaviors that led to the poor and neglected children rather than reward it. Back two generations and more, people mostly got educated first, married first, got stable jobs first, got a home first, and THEN had children. I can see rewarding that. Not this other stuff. The reason the funding is drying up is because the number of people who are doing things right and responsibly is getting smaller and smaller, while the pool of bad behavior sucking money keeps getting bigger and bigger. Talk about a race to the bottom? This oughta get more than a few people fired up..

  4. JakeRost says:

    Hey lurch I suggest you get your facts straight before you say something about the families we help on a daily basis. Sure some are not successful. But it is proven that kids are better off with their biological families. Yes foster care is a great help to the child welfare system, however it’s not the long term answer.

  5. Lurch_wis says:

    Jake,
    You are proof positive why innovation and reform never comes from the institution. What a joke.
    You are summarily the crackhead attempting to spout that you don’t have a drug dependency… Yeah right.. Proven.. Hahahahahahaha.. Show me the data points where you (ever) had the NADS to pull the kids away from the natural (crackhead) parents instead of keeping them with the natural parents. That data doesn’t exist, so you can’t make that assertion.. You have no ground to stand on. Man that right there is funny (taken from Larry the cable guy if you couldn’t figure it out).

  6. Jesse Hagen says:

    JakeRost, don’t take the trolling personally. The other poster isn’t aware or interested in the facts of the situation, obviously their goal is to stir the pot. I always find it interesting how people bring up the good ol days, those days never existed and we can’t time travel, sorry to dash your dreams lurch.

  7. Lurch_wis says:

    Here is where the rubber meets the road. I’ve had to deal with this disgusting Child Welfare/Protection and Judicial system in Milwaukee County when I got divorced from my prescription drug abusing spouse. I presented all the evidence to show how messed up she was, and I showed how she got in an accident while messed up on drugs with my son in the car and put his life in danger and yet you people who proclaim to know everything about everything (especially when you know nothing) still supported having my son have placement and custody with her. Your crazy bias of continuing to favor mothers even when the evidence of abuse is clear is what gives me cause to do everything in my power to de-fund and destroy this “institution” because Reform now is clearly off the table because you don’t listen to anybody but yourselves. So typical. To this day my sons mother just uses him like a tool, and you support it.
    Good Day Fools.

  8. I came to Milwaukee in 1964 fully expecting that the race and inner city problems would be pretty much solved in 20 years. guess what, they are worse as is every city governee by the Libs in the last 100 years. they have fallen apart. Who would think that Detroit is worse than Joburg?
    In 1974 I proposed splitting the Milwaukee school system in to 18 pieces, make the neighborhoods responsible for their own kids. What had happened, education is worse, ids can’t read.
    I see tons of more money thrown at problem with no solutions in sight. Why do the democrats do this to their own people? Just to keep power?
    Should the kids get what the parents vote for? Do they deserves this mess? The Libs seem to be real happy. the parents are’nt rebelling. The only thing that the Libs seem to care about is their union dues and power. the hell with the kids.

  9. Jesse Hagen says:

    The state controls MPS… the city of Milwaukee & electorate have no direct control over changing, eliminating or adding to its structure. Walker & republicans just had complete control of all 3 branches of government, did they take the opportunity to ‘fix’ MPS? No, they took the time to dismantle a political tool (public unions) that generally favor their political opponents.

    If there was any time to make a reform, it was when Walker was elected. MPS is a broken system that is legally unable to reform itself, it can only be altered through state government, who also funds more than half of its operations, yet when there was power available it was not used.

    I suppose this latest snippet was an improvement Wis.Con.Dig, you didn’t start with personal attacks on Bruce for once, just childish political name-calling.

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