is nothing unusual about a rivalry for resources between a big city and the
rest of the state. Think New York City
vs. Upstate, Chicago vs. Downstate, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh vs.
I’ve rarely seen anything as blatant as what the Wisconsin Department of
Children and Families proposes to do to Milwaukee. In shocking, explicit detail, its proposal
for a child welfare funding waiver describes how the state would confiscate
savings made by improving Milwaukee child welfare and use that money in every
Wisconsin county – except Milwaukee.
is one of 13 states that have submitted formal proposals to the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services (HHS) for waivers from federal child
welfare funding rules, though only
eight of the proposals currently are available on the HHS website. Under the waivers, federal money that
normally can be spent only on foster care can be spent on better alternatives
as well. Since the better alternatives
also cost less, reducing foster care generates savings. Under a waiver, the state can keep the
savings, as long as the money is reinvested in child welfare.
most states, child welfare is run directly by the state. In about a dozen states, individual counties
run child welfare. Wisconsin is among
those dozen, but it’s a curious hybrid: At least partly as a consequence of a lawsuit
by the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s Rights,” the state Department
of Children and Families runs child welfare in Milwaukee directly, through a
division known as the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW).
Wisconsin proposal is a slapdash, slipshod effort. (Contrast it to, for
example, the much bolder, far-reaching proposals from Arkansas,Utah
State.) Wisconsin proposes to make extremely limited use of waiver funds to
finance only one innovative service: help to families after they have been
reunified to prevent the children from reentering foster care. And the services they propose to provide
appear to be largely “soft” services, like counseling, instead of the concrete
help families need most.
Even if everything goes the way the state wants, by the end
of the waiver period, only $7.1 million per
year of what now is spent on foster care would be shifted to better alternatives. That’s less than ten percent – and it would
take five years even to achieve that.
here’s where Wisconsin’s plan goes from merely pedantic, mediocre and
unambitious to appalling: Of that $7.1 million, $1.2 million, or 17 percent,
doesn’t come from the waiver at all – it comes from money that is, in effect,
stolen from the vulnerable children of Milwaukee County to be redistributed to
the rest of the state.
DCF is arguing that in Milwaukee County they’ve already done
such a great job putting plans in place, that they’re sure they will reduce
reentries even without the waiver. Since
the waiver lets them keep money saved through this reduction, DCF plans to take
these savings and divert the money to Wisconsin’s other 71 counties, instead of
spending it on bolstering services in Milwaukee.
Or, as the waiver proposal itself puts it, on page 13:
To the extent that [the
Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare] BMCW experiences success in reducing its
re-entry rate, the IV-E demonstration project waiver will build on the
successful experience in BMCW to replicate and expand post-reunification
support to the 71 non-Milwaukee counties.
Specifically, federal IV-E and
state matching funds that are not utilized for [foster care] maintenance costs
in Milwaukee due to lowered out-of-home care caseloads will be reallocated to
non-Milwaukee counties to fund the administrative and service costs of
twelve months of post-reunification support.
And check out pages 21 and 22, where the state seems almost
gleeful as it explains in detail how Milwaukee savings will be siphoned off to
the rest of the state.
As far as I know, the group that so arrogantly calls itself “Children’s
Rights” (CR), has been silent about Wisconsin’s waiver proposal – I don’t know if
they’ve even read it. Will they actually
stand silent as the state of Wisconsin proposes to siphon child welfare funds
away from the county where they have a consent decree? Unfortunately the answer may be yes. These are funds to keep children out of
foster care, as opposed to funds to “improve” foster care. And, of course CR has made clear over and
over that it is indifferent, at best, and hostile, at worst,
to keeping kids out of the system.
CR may well remain silent even though CR has a special
responsibility to speak up. It was CR’s lawsuit
that set in motion the chain of events that led to the state taking over child
welfare in Milwaukee. Were county
government still responsible for child welfare it would have been a lot harder
for the state to pull a stunt like this.
federal law, HHS can award up to ten waivers per year for the next three years.
There are 13 proposals for this first round of waivers. The Wisconsin proposal
should be sent immediately to the scrap heap.
The state should be informed that the federal government will not be an
accomplice to siphoning funds from one part of a state to another.
Next week NCCPR will issue a Report Card on
all eight publicly-available waiver proposals.
One of the
many false claims from America’s latter-day “child savers” – to use the term
their 19th Century counterparts proudly gave themselves – is the
claim that “we never take away children because of poverty.”
the fact that most state laws define neglect as lack of adequate food, clothing
and shelter – a perfect definition of poverty – and they’ll reply that in some
of those states the law specifically makes an exception if the lack of adequate
food, clothing and shelter is caused by poverty.
course, the child savers have all sorts of ways around petty annoyances such as
what a law actually says.
case from Texas in which a family was torn apart for lack of housing and
the flack for the child welfare agency blithely explained that the children
weren’t being torn from their loving parents because they were poor, but because
they were in an unsafe living environment.
“You could live in a mansion and be in an unsafe living environment,”
And now we
have the spectacle of Washington, D.C., enacting what looks for all the word
like a cruel, calculated plan to stop families in desperate need of housing
from seeking help from the D.C. government.
As the D.C.
blog Policy and Povertyfirst
reported in May, the plan is simplicity itself. When someone calls the center that is
supposed to help homeless families, the center promptly turns around and turns
them in to the Child and Family Services Administration (CFSA) – the agency
that investigates child abuse and takes away children in the District.
and Poverty blog notes that this is done despite the fact that
As the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless notes … District
law specifically states that “deprivation due to the
lack of financial means … is not considered neglect.”
it hasn’t actually taken any children as a result of these referrals. But as the Blog also notes, CFSA has admitted
that of all the children it tore from their families in 2010, 35 were placed
primarily because of “inadequate housing.”
CFSA will admit is only the tip of the iceberg.
I’ve noted previously on this Blog, an independent evaluation by CFSA’s own
Citizen Review Panel found a serious and widespread problem of needless removal
of children from their homes.
Washington Post story in June,
Ruth White, executive director of the National Center for Housing and Child
Welfare – and a member of the NCCPR Board of Directors – cut to the heart of
What’s unusual about D.C., White believes, is
that the overburdened city is using its new warning to reduce the number of
families in its system by scaring away parents … who might be able to scrape by sleeping on
couches, with friends and family or in their cars.
“These people are simply walking in the door for
assistance and people don’t have shelter and they’re saying, ‘We’re calling CPS
on you? ‘ It’s ridiculous,” White said. “It is scandalous. I’ve never seen it
done this blatantly.”
Lawyers for the Washington Legal Clinic for the
Homeless said they first began hearing from families who had been threatened
with investigation this winter and now many of their clients avoid seeking
One woman who recently testified at a[D.C. city]
council hearing wept as she described her fear that she would lose custody of
her younger son, a 16-year-old honor student, after the family was evicted from
their apartment in April and ended up sleeping in Anacostia Park.
“I’m just so afraid,” she said. “They tell me
they’re going to come and have my son taken away. I can’t deal with that. My
boys is all I know.”
disappointing is who it is who turns out to be behind this cruel policy. In the District helping homeless families is
the responsibility of the Department of Human Services. That agency is run by David Berns, who earned
a national reputation as a reformer for transforming child welfare, and
significantly reducing foster care, in El Paso County, Colorado.