RACINE COUNTY — A task force on foster care is scheduled to be formed, according to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who is seeking Democrats to be part of the group.
In an announcement Wednesday, Vos said the goal is to help end the “multigenerational cycle of government dependence by strengthening community partnerships (and) reducing barriers within the system.”
“We need to find ways to better serve our most vulnerable citizens who, at no fault of their own, are put in challenging circumstances,” Vos said. “We want every child in Wisconsin to become a productive citizen and be given every opportunity to succeed in life. This includes the thousands of children in the foster care system.”
According to the Department of Children anf Families, in 2015 there were 7,168 children in out-of-home care, an increase from the previous year.
Kerry Milkie, manager of Youth and Family Division for Racine County Human Services Department, said there aren’t enough locations in the county for children in foster care. In Racine County, the shortage of houses to put children in has become so significant that a county task force was formed last fall to tackle this issue.
Milkie said many foster kids are sent to places outside of the county. According to county numbers, children were placed in 127 licensed foster homes last year of which 45 — more than one-third — were outside of this county.
“The child can’t attend his or her own school, it makes it difficult to visit a parent and (there are) other reunification issues,” Milkie said.
‘Crisis of numbers’
According to county officials, in 2016, there were a total of 667 kids served in foster care, up from 511 in 2015.
Issues such as mental health, drugs and alcohol, Milkie said, have contributed to a 40 percent increase (roughly 100 additional children) in the local foster care system over the last year.
She said the county normally averages about 259 children daily in the foster care system, and currently there are about 350 daily.
“The heroin epidemic is not lost on child welfare,” Milkie said. “There are are other issues going on within the community that cause (the increase) to happen.”
Milkie called it a “crisis of numbers” and said more people need to be involved.
“These kids belong to this community; we have a responsibility to them,” Milkie said. “We need the community to step up and be part of this process for them.”
Vos said one major issue that needs to be addressed is how to help children leaving the system when they age out at 18, without having a permanent family.
“The bipartisan task force will travel the state to get input from local experts and individuals involved with foster care and community programs,” Vos said. “I’m asking the bipartisan task force to make recommendations before the end of the session.”
Vos’ representatives said a hearing will held in southeastern Wisconsin, but the location hasn’t been determined.