For More Information Contact:
Representative Suzanne Jeskewitz (608) 266-3796
Senator Carol Roessler (608) 266-5300
(Madison) Today, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released an evaluation of the Milwaukee Child Welfare program, which is administered by the Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS). LAB analyzed timeliness, effectiveness, and coordination of services in its report on program issues (report 06-1) and program funding, expenditures, and staffing in its report on program finances and staffing (report 06-2). These reports identify significant areas for improvement in program management and financial administration.
From January 2001 through June 2005, program expenditures totaled $493.7 million. In June 2005, the program served 3,188 children who had been removed from their homes to ensure their safety and an additional 266 families who received services without having a child removed from the home.
“For a long time we have heard that the problems in Milwaukee Child Welfare were do to overburdened case workers,” remarked Joint Legislative Audit Committee Co-chair Suzanne Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls). “The audit clearly paints quite a different story and that picture seems to show that the problem with these case workers has more to do with their lack of certification and experience. Why the Department doesn’t require contract workers to be certified is beyond belief.”
The audit identified concerns with the timeliness of investigations of child abuse and neglect. DHFS exceeded a 60-day statutory time limit in 30.9 percent of its investigations. LAB also reported that, early in 2005, only 27.4 percent of court-ordered services for families were provided in a timely manner.
LAB found collaboration and coordination among child welfare staff to be limited and documented problems related to establishing permanent placements in 25 of 48 cases it reviewed. To assess whether DHFS adequately ensured the safety of children, LAB reviewed 73 high-risk cases that were most likely to involve child abuse or neglect. LAB determined that DHFS and its contractors took reasonable and appropriate action in 69 of these cases, but believes that more could have been done to protect children in the remaining 4 cases.
“More careful scrutiny of child welfare cases is warranted,” said Joint Legislative Audit Committee Co-chair Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh). “We must ensure that children in need of protection and safety services receive those services. Safety service contractors must be held accountable when they fail to provide necessary services to vulnerable children. These actions are endangering life situations and must be met with serious consequences.”
LAB also examined the appropriateness and reasonableness of costs that nine contractors charged the program in 2004. LAB found $677,694 in unallowable and questioned costs, including a payment of a $541,604 duplicate reimbursement request submitted by Lutheran Social Services. Another contractor, La Causa, had debt totaling $6.2 million as of December 2005. This debt will have to be monitored carefully because DHFS has awarded a $10.6 million contract for the organization to provide program services in 2006.
Co-chairs Roessler and Jeskewitz plan to hold a hearing on the audit findings in mid-March and announced their intentions to closely monitor the efforts of DHFS to implement LAB’s recommendations for program improvement.
Copies of the evaluation may be obtained from the Legislative Audit Bureau’s Web site at www.legis.state.wi.us/lab or by calling (608) 266-2818 to request copies of report 06-1: Milwaukee Child Welfare Program Issues, and report 06-2: Milwaukee Child Welfare Finances and Staffing.