To say the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) is an agency plagued by problems would be an understatement. The BMCW’s problems started before the BMCW actually existed, going back to a time when today’s BMCW was known as Milwaukee County Child Welfare. Back when Milwaukee County Child Welfare was run by Milwaukee County, audits showed that the agency’s main problem was a lack of funding. However, instead of heeding the findings of the audit, Republicans hell-bent on privatizing the agency (ostensibly to “reduce the size of government”) inserted a line item the state’s biennial budget to give the State of Wisconsin control over Milwaukee County’s Child Welfare system.
In the 1990’s, a group of child rights advocates filed a lawsuit against Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin for violating the rights of children in the foster care system. As part of the settlement, the child advocacy groups, the state, and the county agreed to have a private audit done. The audits revealed that the main issue was quite simple-Milwaukee County Child Welfare was not being adequately funded by the state.
The state denied this finding and stated that Milwaukee was getting enough money, but that it was being mismanaged. So in 1998, Tommy Thompson and his Republican controlled state legislature (notable members of which included Scott Walker and Alberta Darling) wrote a line in the budget that the State would take over the child welfare system in any county with a population of over 500,000. There was only one county that fit this description-Milwaukee.
In addition to giving control over the BMCW to the State of Wisconsin, Republicans like Sen. Darling and Scott Walker largely privatized the day-to-day operations of the BMCW, with the initial assessment function being performed by actual state employees, while any additional services such as out of home care and ongoing care are provided by private agencies contracting for the State of Wisconsin.
Not content to simply privatize the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, the State of Wisconsin is now seeking applicants interested in working as Initial Assessment Specialists for the BMCW. While the ranks of Initial Assessment Specialists for the BMCW used to be filled by college graduates with certifications requiring hours of additional training after finishing school, the first question on the Initial Assessment Specialist preview exam is “Do you have a valid driver’s license?” A closer look at the preview exam shows that while “well qualified” candidates will have a college degree, the “new and improved” BMCW is willing to accept anyone who has 4 years of professional social services work experience in social work or a related human services field, regardless of whether that person has a college degree (or any education beyond a high school diploma, for that matter).
As noted by the Protecting Milwaukee’s Kids Facebook page, the BMCW’s own web page clearly calls for competent staff using consistent, clearly articulate standards supported by strong professional development, but this week’s job posting with no required education or training standards for new hires seems to undermine the Bureau’s own directives.
Is that in the best interest of Milwaukee’s kids? Is that consistent with their own mission and principles?
I think not, and this seems to me to be yet another example of conservatives setting Milwaukee County (in this case the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare) up for failure. Hiring less qualified, less educated candidates to fill critically important jobs in the Bureau won’t lead to improved outcomes for at-risk children, and that’s an absolute travesty.