Speaker's Task Force on Adoption holds first public hearing at UW-Green Bay

Published: Jul. 2, 2019 at 9:14 PM CDT
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A bipartisan group of state representatives hopes to learn more about the barriers that make child adoption challenging in Wisconsin.

Rep. Robin Vos, (R) Assembly Speaker, announced the Speaker's Task Force on Adoption in May.

Members are tasked with examining the termination of parental rights, finding ways to shorten the adoption timeline, looking at the costs involved and ways to lowers those costs, and efforts to increase awareness about the adoption process and available resources.

"I just want to say that it's really important for us to be in this part of the state," said Rep. Barbara Dittrich, (R) Oconomowoc.

Dittrich chairs the newly formed Speaker's Task Force on Adoption.

"We're very anxious to hear what people in the northeastern part of the state have to share with us today," she said at the committee's first public hearing held on Tuesday afternoon at UW-Green Bay.

People with different backgrounds and experiences shared with lawmakers the challenges they see in what they call a 'complex system.'

"Children need their parents. The question is how do we protect a child who may think developmentally that's my mom even if mom is doing something abusive? They're not necessarily going to protect themselves, and that becomes our job," said Joan Groessl, chair of the UW-Green Bay Social Work Program.

"Our system is very well-meaning, and I think sometimes when--there's a bar that we were referencing that you have to hit for the child to come out of the home in the first place--and when that bar is met, I think sometimes, this is not an across the board statement, but I think sometimes social workers, attorneys, judges almost raise that bar for that child to be able to go back after they've been removed," said Dustin Koury, Foster Care Coordinator for Waupaca County.

Instead, child welfare advocates say the system should offer more one-on-one support to help the biological parents working to get their children back.

"The primary purpose of placing children in a foster care home is to provide families a safe way to developing and rebuilding a healthy family structure so that children and parents can be reunited," said Joan Delabreau, vice chair of the Menominee Tribal Legislature.

"It is so unclear to these parents what it is that they need to do to reunify with their children," said Michelle Gordon, lead attorney on child welfare cases for Oneida Nation. "We use canned conditions which means the same conditions are being provided to each family with a different name attached."

Members of area Native American tribes ask lawmakers to use a family first approach, something they say they have been using since the very beginning.

"There is no resource that is more vital to the continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes than their children," said Delabreau.

Dittrich says the task force will hold more public listening sessions in other parts of the state.