December 17, 2008

The Child Welfare Crisis Needs Leadership & Vision

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

The tragic death of one-year-old Christopher Thomas Jr. has been a shock to many of us.  At times like this some ask questions of how this can happen.  Some point to single points within the system.  Some make statements and pose for holy pictures.  All together though, this case highlights the need, not for small changes or personnel moves, but rather a complete reform of the child welfare system.  The system is in crisis.

Christopher Thomas Jr. is not alone when it comes to child deaths in the care of BMCW.  Since May of 2007 at least 10 children have died in the care of bureau.  This is a systemic problem.  This disturbing trend must end immediately.  I truly believe that even one death is unacceptable.

While some choose to only speak about this event, I am committed to do much more. This is the time that leadership is required!  I applaud Secretary Reggie Bicha for his implementation of departmental changes. Additional training, increased oversight, and doubling the number of social worker visits to homes with foster children ages 0-3 are certainly steps in the right direction.

In moving forward to meet the crisis, a leadership change at BMCW was announced this week. As the chair of the Strengthening Families Committee I am looking forward to a national search to find the most qualified candidate to oversee this very important agency.  A new perspective must be brought to the system, a perspective that is willing to challenge the status quo.

Further, the Milwaukee Child Welfare Partnership Council must live up to its mandate to provide clear recommendations for change to the Legislature.  Under Wisconsin law, the first duty of the council is to

“Formulate suggested policies and plans for the improvement

of the child welfare system in Milwaukee County and make

recommendations with respect to those policies and plans to the

department and the legislature.” (s.48.561(1)). 

The Legislature and Governor must be given candid advice on BMCW, even when the leadership of the bureau and department don’t want to hear it.

The death of Baby Christopher struck a cord with many people in our and in our state. I look forward from community input on how we can make changes that guarantees the safety and well-being of each child, not just in Milwaukee, but in the entire state of Wisconsin.  Together, we can do better for our children.