Public hearing looks at repairing foster care system

Statewide, more and more kids have had to be put in foster care over the past few years, overloading the system to the point of a crisis. Many are pointing to drugs as the cause.

As part of Wisconsin’s Speakers Task Force on Foster Care, lawmakers are traveling the state to hear from those working directly with the foster care system. The goal is to put together a package of bills.

The task force stopped in La Crosse Thursday for a public hearing.

“Our child protective service system is a joint partnership with the state of Wisconsin, and we’ve really seen some difficult issues in recent years,” La Crosse County Human Services director Jason Witt said.

Witt said the state’s drug addiction epidemic is directly increasing the need for foster care in the area, pushing the system to a critical point.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said.

Right now La Crosse County has the same amount of foster parents as five years ago. Witt said, however, the number of children needing placement has grown by about 50 percent, and the county is running out of placements for children.

“Right now we have a system that’s overloaded,” Witt said. He shared his concerns with the state’s Speakers Task Force.

“We’re responding basically to a crisis of foster care in Wisconsin,” state Rep. Steve Doyle, of Onalaska, said.

Doyle is co-chair of the task force along with state Rep. Pat Snyder, of the Wausau area.

“In my county alone, meth and heroin has increased tremendously,” Snyder said. “Well over 260 kids were removed from homes just this year alone, doubled from a year ago.”

Lawmakers are looking for answers from those on the frontline.

“It’s being sure when families seem like they’re off track early, we have some resource to get in there early before their situation becomes a crisis,” Witt said. He added that along with prevention efforts to reduce the need for foster care and tackling the drug epidemic head-on, it’s important to address case overload for staff, funding issues and the need to recruit and maintain foster parents.

“We have so many more children in the system and so many more supports that are needed,” Witt said.

Currently, La Crosse County Child Protective Services has about 180 children in various types of placement and 100 foster parents, and is looking for more. To find out more, go to this website.

The foster care task force has travelled to Madison, Dodgeville and Wausau, and the group plans to head to the Fox River Valley and Milwaukee.

Doyle said thanks to bipartisan support, he’s confident whatever bills are written will pass quickly through the Legislature.