In 1998, the state of Wisconsin (previously entirely a county-administered child welfare system) took over child welfare in Milwaukee County. The purpose was to reform child welfare in the county to ensure the safety of children in care, achieve permanency as quickly as possible, and work cooperatively with the community to better serve children and families.
The county was divided into five service regions, with a contract in each region for a lead agency (called a “partner”). State workers do intake and investigative reports of child abuse and neglect, while contractors provide case management and develop and maintain networks of providers that provide services to children in care as well as families with children at-risk of placement. Contractors also track services used, authorize services, and arrange for payment for services.
Services are provided through the Safety Services Program to prevent placement (somewhat similar to family preservation services), and through Wraparound Milwaukee to support children in care. Overall about 6,000 children are in out-of-home care in Milwaukee County, and thus receiving case management from contractors, while about 500 families are receiving Safety Services and about 200 children in care are receiving wraparound services. Contractors receive a global payment (like a block grant) to provide case management for all children referred, and they receive a case rate of about $1200 per month for four months to provide Safety Services. Their funding is flexible – contractors are expected to use the dollars in ways that keep children safe. Wraparound Milwaukee services are paid for through mental health (Medicaid) and child welfare funding. Contractors can keep savings and re-invest them in services.
The Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare emphasizes community ownership and its accountability to the community. For example, when hiring new social workers, every interview has a community representative on the interview panel. It has focused on building capacity within neighborhoods in partnership with the community. The legislation establishing state responsibility also created a local partnership council that serves in an advisory role to the Bureau and ensure community input in service development, design, and delivery.
An evaluation is in process, but there is already a sense that the Safety Services component has reduced the rate of entries into care, that length-of-stay for new families has shortened, and that Milwaukee contributed to a drop in the state’s rate of child abuse and neglect.