Foster Forward

This e-update highlights the numerous policy initiatives that were included in the Foster Forward legislative package from the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care. All of the bills in the Foster Forward legislative package (with the exception of AB 777/SB 729, which is awaiting Senate concurrence) passed the Assembly and the Senate with overwhelming bi-partisan support and are ready for Governor Walker’s signature.   



 Why is the Foster Forward Package Important?

According to the Department of Children and Families Annual Out-of-Home Care Report, there were a total of 7,482 children living outside of their homes in 2016. Out-of-home placements have been on the rise since 2012, and have increased nearly 20% over the past six years. The Foster Forward legislative package was drafted in response to the increase in out-of-home care placements and aims to aid foster children and parents.

A report recently published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty entitled Flooding The System: A Study of Opioids and Out-of-Home Care in Wisconsin makes the case that there is a strong correlation between the rise in opioid drug abuse and an increase in children entering foster care services in Wisconsin since 2012. The report also found a “pretty strong relationship” between rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome and children under a year old entering foster care. More children aged 0-1 were entered into foster care in 2016 than any other age, according to the Department of Children and Families. 

The Foster Forward legislative package consists of 13 bipartisan proposals that are a direct reflection of the input received at the six public hearings held across the state by the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care for the purpose of receiving testimony regarding ideas to improve the child welfare system. The proposals are organized into three different categories including efforts to support families, improvements to the child welfare system, and additional resources for foster children.

Efforts to Support Families 

AB 786/SB 675 appropriates an additional $250,000 a year to stabilize and expand the current Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. CASAs are citizen volunteers, appointed by judges, who advocate for the best interests of children in out-of-home care. Children who are served by a CASA volunteer often have improved outcomes in many aspects of their lives such as improved academic performance, better communication skills and a shorter time in foster care. The program is very cost-effective; each paid administrative staff position supervises 30 volunteers who may work with up to 45 children.

AB 779/SB 672 provides $210,000 in funding to the statewide 2-1-1 Wisconsin network  which connects callers to a specialist who can assess the caller’s needs and link the caller to the right solution using a comprehensive database of services. Consistent availability of this resource statewide is a good investment because the individuals and families most served by 2-1-1 Wisconsin are a population that is often at risk for child abuse and neglect.

AB 785/SB 658 appropriates $500,000 a year in federal funding (TANF) to DCF to award grants to counties, nonprofits and tribes for the purpose of promoting practices aimed at preventing child maltreatment. In 2016, Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies across Wisconsin received a total of 78,382 alleged child maltreatment referrals. That number is up 2.5% from 76,442 in the previous year. Wisconsin already invests significant resources in child welfare safety services and child welfare prevention services. However, additional investments to support prevention programs that strengthen our families, protect our children, and ultimately reduce child abuse and neglect are warranted.

AB 784/SB 657 authorizes the State Public Defender to create a five county pilot program to provide legal representation to parents whose children are the subject of a Child in Need of Protective Services (CHIPS) petition. The goal of this proposal is to provide legal representation to biological parents so they have the ability to follow the Court’s orders at the initial hearings and not cause delays if the case proceeds to termination of parental rights. Similar pilots in other states have reduced average days to permanency from 344.8 days to 251.9 days with a 39% increase in reunification.


Above: Members of the bipartisan Speaker's Task Force on Foster Care.

Additional Resources for Foster Children

AB 787/SB 676 appropriates $400,000 in fiscal year 2018-19 for DCF to award grants to counties, nonprofit organizations, and tribes to support foster parents and provide normalcy for children in out-of-home care. At the public hearings, foster parents across the state shared the challenges they face in providing children in their care with a normal lifestyle, but they did not feel an increase in foster care rates was needed. They did feel that a competitive grant process to provide funding for specific expenses such as driver’s education, a musical instrument, or sports equipment would help lessen the financial burden on foster parents and provide foster children opportunities to experience normalcy.

AB 782/SB 674 allows a health care provider to disclose information regarding a child’s mental health treatment records to an out-of-home care provider or a child welfare agency if the provider reasonably believes it is necessary for the proper care of the child and will allow for better care to the foster child.

AB 781/SB 673 defines “dental care” for the purpose of providing ordinary medical and dental care for children placed in out-of-home care. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 40% of children who enter the foster care system have significant oral health needs. This new definition will remove barriers to treatment for children in foster care and reduce unnecessary Emergency Department spending.

AB 777/SB 729 appropriates $410,000 annually to the Higher Educational Aids Board to reimburse the UW Board of Regents and technical college district boards for tuition remissions for foster care and other out-of-home placement students and ensures that a foster youth who meets certain criteria is able to attend a UW institution or technical college tuition-free (after all other financial aid options are applied).

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My capitol office is here to help you with general inquiries as well as questions and concerns regarding legislative matters. Feel free to contact me or my staff. We are always ready to assist you in your needs. Please visit my website for press releases and other Capitol updates.

 If you have any comments regarding the subject of this E-Update, please feel free to contact me.   

Rep. Amy Loudenbeck 
State Capitol, Room 304 East
PO Box 8952
Madison, WI 53708

Toll-Free (888) 529-0031 or (608) 266-9967| |