Guest Column from Rep. Jim Steineke
Study Committee on Minor Guardianship Aims to Advocate for Vulnerable Kids
Word Count: 482

As a legislator, I try to make myself available to every single constituent I represent, encouraging them to come to me with both problems and solutions. As convenient as it is when I’m presented with solutions, more often than not, I serve as a point of contact, resource, and advocate for issues that the people of the 5th Assembly District are dealing with in their own lives.

Not long ago, a constituent came to me with a problem regarding her niece, our state’s minor guardianship laws and statutes, and the potential for this child to be put back into an abusive and neglectful situation. Upon digging into this issue to see what options this individual may be able to pursue, it became clear that her story could easily be any family’s story here in Wisconsin. It was obvious that our statutes were doing a disservice to not only her, but to vulnerable families and children throughout our state.

Equipped with the knowledge that, one, this is a problem that can be addressed by the legislature, and two, this problem is incredibly complex, I knew that speaking with experts and stakeholders directly involved in minor guardianship would provide me and the legislature as a whole with the information we need to move towards solving this problem. After bringing this issue to my peers on the Joint Legislative Council, I was approved to Chair a Study Committee on Minor Guardianships, where I am hopeful we can take meaningful steps towards updating and improving upon laws relating to minor guardianship. 

The Study Committee on Minor Guardianships has been directed to examine Chapter 54 of Wisconsin Statutes, concerning guardianship of minors and adults, and recommend legislation that creates procedures specific to guardianship of a minor. In the simplest of terms, Chapter 54 was written with an intent geared towards adults that needed guardians. Unsurprisingly, children who require a guardian and adults who require a guardian have vastly different needs, circumstances, and factors to consider – something our current laws don’t account for. Together with the Vice Chair of the Study Committee, Senator LaTonya Johnson (D), we will assemble a bi-partisan group of legislators, agency decision makers, and interested members of the public that will begin to tackle this issue head on by holding public hearings, meeting with experts and families that have been affected, and ultimately recommending legislative action.

Beyond the legal jargon and complex solutions that will come from the Study Committee on Minor Guardianships, my goal in taking on this issue and committee is to, in the end, ensure the best interest of a child plays a large role in making a guardianship determination – something that our current statutes make extremely difficult to do. It’s a common sense idea that unfortunately cannot currently be put into practice. That’s exactly what I aim to change – because every vulnerable kid deserves to have their interests put first.