In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, protecting children could be a job for high school graduates

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.


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8 thoughts on “In Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, protecting children could be a job for high school graduates

  1. The Department of Children and Families will tell you that they need to lower the bar to hire new workers, but the issue is not and never has been the lack of qualified candidates. It is about the terrible working conditions inside that agency. They have hired enough people to fill every vacancy twice over, but they can’t keep them because they have never invested the resources to make the job possible. Caseloads far exceed standards across the rest of the state, leaving staff struggling with 60+ hour weeks, 18 hour shifts trying to protect kids without the help they need. The problems don’t stop with staffing either. Because the Department has failed to address the crucial shortage of foster parents in Milwaukee, there are kids who are taken from their parents and placed in Eau Claire or Ladysmith across the state. Do you think somebody whose main qualification was a valid driver’s license should have the power to decide that a child should be removed from their family home and taken hundreds of miles from their community, their school, their friends and put in the care of total strangers? Lowering the bar is NOT the answer.

  2. You can be Governor without a college degree so why not something as “as simple” as an IA worker? Anyone tipped Crocker Stevenson on this yet? Or local and state elected officials? Hopefully this issue gains some traction.

    1. I contacted State Senator Carpenter when I first heard about this. I informed his staff that it would cost tax payers more money to train unqualified people and put more children at risk while also potentially leading to violations of civil rights when people without proper skills and education were given the power to take children out of home. His staff informed me that he would talk to the Senator but that the Republicans weren’t going to listen to any changes to their budget bill, and I haven’t heard anything back since. I think the community needs to put pressure on their leaders at this point

      1. hi paul, my name is valencia little, I’m contacting you because I have first hand information on the tragedy that these unqualified workers are causing aour children. I have children that were taken away from their homes without us being made aware of our rights and their responsibility to keep our children safe. We did everything that was asked before it was court ordered, but yet only 3 of our 6 children are back at home in two years. Also my husband and I have had two children raped while in States custody and one left with a sexually transmitted diseas at age 4. We have also had children that have been physically,emotionally, and verbally abused at the hands foster parents and their own children. We have contacted some state officials and also others have heard our story and know that our families rights have been violated. Please we need someone to help us bring public awareness to this injustice. the BMC W has turn a deaf ear to all of the things that has happened to our children while in states custody. You can contact me via email. I’m not sure how the email shows up with this message, but I’m not afraid for my email address ito be shown so here it is Thank you in advance.

  3. Well, with no union left, the state is left to do virtually anything they want now. I’m guessing this will come with a much lower pay scale. One of the most important things that people trained in accredited social work programs and through the certification processes learn that student don’t get in other programs like criminal justice or child development is a deep foundation in professional ethics. Now, sure some people through what they’ve learned right out the window, but to hire people who don’t even understand what a Code of Ethics even is or who have never even heard of the Code of Ethics and then put them out on the street and tell them to make huge, life altering decisions for vulnerable children is not the direction we should be going as a society. This is fodder for more lawsuits.

  4. Actually the are paying these new IA Specialists over $21/hour, more than they used to pay certified Bachelor level IA Workers in the past.

    1. Absolutely – this fight has nothing to do with wages or benefits for the the people who work there. The social workers turned specialists aren’t directly concerned with their own situation but how it is going to impact the children they serve. The compensation plan was as reasonable to the BMCW as to any agency in state service and increased the starting wage significantly but the concern is that bad decisions may be made by those new hires without the qualifications and without the mandatory ethical guidelines and kids may be hurt.

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