Foster care system bogged down because of drug addiction

Published: Oct. 25, 2017 at 6:44 PM CDT
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Action 2 News first reported the creation of the Foster Care Task Force in July, after lawmakers saw the number of Wisconsin kids removed from their homes rise to 7,400 in 2016.

"Since then, we've been traveling the state to hear from the people that I would call the front line folks dealing with the issue of kids in foster care," said Rep. Steve Doyle, (D) Onalaska.

The root cause of the increase is drugs, because 80 to 90 percent of kids in the foster care system now come from families abusing drugs.

On Wednesday, the task force heard from dozens of people in Brown County at its last public hearing about the drug-fueled foster care system, where the need for help is high.

For lawmakers, that help comes in the form of changing laws.

The Department of Public Instruction testified on behalf of schools saying each time those kids are moved to a different school, academically, they're set back six months and most don't graduate.

For the sake of stability, DPI asks kids not to have to change schools, even if their zip code changes.

"It's really kind of a compounding problem. So, we have foster parents who feel under stress, we have social workers who feel under stress, and then of course, you've got the kids who are really the ultimate victims of the process," said Rep. Doyle.

The Department of Human Services says every year in the State of Wisconsin around 600 babies are born addicted to drugs, and many end up in foster care.

Lawmakers say it's part of the foster care system in crisis.

"Everything north of 29 we're dealing with a heavy meth problem. Everything south is the heroin. So we get a little bit of both. We have record numbers; around 270 kids this year alone that have been placed in out of home care because of the drugs," said Rep. Patrick Snyder, (R) Schofield.

One in five of these kids will become homeless when they turn 18; less than half are employed by the age of 24 and more than half will end up behind bars.

Advocates say what's needed is stability and accountability, but for right now, it's not going to come from a social worker.

The Department of Human Services says their department is simply maxed out with both the budget and the workload at borderline unmanageable with the increasing number of cases.

"In addition to working with the foster parents, we're trying to do what we can to help the social workers. If you have a kid in foster care for example and within the first year that he's in foster care he has three different social workers coming in to see him, there's no stability. That's not a good recipe for a successful childhood and ultimately adulthood," said Rep. Doyle.

Lawmakers want to break the cycle with new legislation proposals as early as November.