Wisconsin lawmakers on an Assembly task force will introduce 13 pieces of legislation designed to support children and families in the foster care system.
The policy proposals come after six public hearings led by the Speaker's Task Force on Foster Care, co-chaired by Reps. Pat Snyder, R-Schofield, and Steve Doyle, D-Onalaksa. The two lawmakers stressed the nonpartisan nature of the problems the system faces, along with the solutions they are offering.
"When we put the kids first and their priorities, it’s easy to get to these solutions or proposals," Snyder said at a Tuesday news conference.
The proposals aim to address three broad areas: preventing children from being removed from their original homes, improving the child welfare system and improving services provided to children placed in out-of-home care during and after their time in the system.
The following legislative proposals are expected to be introduced in December and considered in January, said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester:
A Parent's Right to Counsel in a CHIPS Proceeding
Under current law, parents do not have a statutory right to legal representation during a proceeding for a child in need of protection or services. The bill would remove a provision that prohibits appointment of counsel in most cases, and would establish a three-year pilot program in five counties giving all nonpetitioning parents a right to counsel.
Funding for Court Appointed Special Advocates
Under current law, the state Department of Justice must provide $80,000 per fiscal year in grants for court-appointed special advocate (CASA). A CASA may be appointed to watch out for the child's best interest in a CHIPS proceeding. The current grant program is set to end in 2019. The bill would remove the sunset date and increase the funding to $250,000 per fiscal year.
Statewide Network for Referrals to Community-Based Services
The bill would set aside $210,000 per fiscal year for the state Department of Health Services to distribute as a grant to a nonprofit organization. The organization would operate a website or telephone hotline that would provide information on and referrals to community-based services that are believed to reduce the number and severity of family contacts with child protective services.
Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Grants
The bill directs the state Department of Children and Families to administer a grant program for child abuse and neglect prevention services aimed at reducing contact with child protective services and keeping children in their homes. The bill appropriates $500,000 in funding from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Committee to Study Child Welfare Worker Caseloads
The bill would create a task force that would study the caseloads of child welfare workers and make recommendations for maximum cases, maximum ratios of supervisors to caseworkers and the amount of funding needed to implement those standards.
Foster Home Licensing
The bill would allow DCF to transfer a foster home license to a county, to DCF or to another licensed child welfare agency if an agency's license is revoked, suspended or surrendered. It would also allow DCF to stop a child welfare agency from accepting new placements or issuing new foster care licenses in such cases, and gives DCF more leeway in when it may revoke a license.
Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights Based on Continuing Need of Protection or Services
The bill removes a requirement that exists under current law for termination of parental rights that a court or jury must find that there is a "substantial likelihood that the parent will not meet the conditions established for the safe return of the child to the home within the next nine months." Lawmakers on the task force said they have learned this is "extremely difficult" to prove.
Appellate Procedure for Termination of Parental Rights
Under the bill, an appeal on a case terminating parental rights could not move forward without the signature of the parent whose rights are in question.
Notice to Schools and School Districts and Transfer of Pupil Records
The bill would require schools to be notified of a permanency plan review or hearing and allow them to weigh in on the plan when a child is removed from his or her home.
Grant for Foster Parent Education and Support
The bill sets aside $400,000 and directs DCF to administer a grant program that supports foster parents and children. The funds can be used for things including incentives to retain foster parents, enhancing foster parent education and reimbursing foster parents their expenses.
Limited Release of Mental Health Information to Out-of-Home Care Providers and Child Welfare Agencies
The bill allows a health care provider to share a portion of a child's mental health treatment records with an out-of-home care provider or a child welfare agency without written consent if it is believed to be necessary for the proper care of the child.
Defining Routine Dental Care
Under current law, the legal custodian of a child placed out of the home can arrange for certain medical and dental care without a parent's consent, but "dental care" is not defined. The bill would define it as both routine, preventative dental care and treatment.
University of Wisconsin and Technical College Tuition Remission
The bill instructs the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Technical College System to give tuition remission to former foster youth who meets certain requirements, and directs DCF to provide grants to UW institutions and technical colleges to provide resources and programs for former foster youth.