As the opioid crisis puts an increased strain on Wisconsin’s foster care system, Gov. Scott Walker signed a package of bills into law to increase support for children in the program.
The legislation will alter how parental rights are terminated, provide grant funds for child abuse services, bolster new measures of abuse reporting and allow foster parents more meaningful access to information potentially vital to proper care, among other reforms.
“More than 7,000 children in Wisconsin have been placed in out-of-home care because of neglect or abuse as of 2015,” Walker said in a statement. “We want to make sure we’re doing what we can to improve the system so we can achieve better outcomes for these young people, and these bills do that.”
The legislation comes as part of the “
“Wisconsin foster families give so much of themselves to provide for the children in their care, but even the most committed foster families can face challenges in providing specialized care or finding the resources to afford experiences like field trips and extra-curricular activities,” said state Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison.
The bills are also not the first to be produced by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’s task force on foster care assembled last year, which championed successful standalone measures like making state universities tuition-free for foster children.
“The grants will help attract and retain foster families whether it is by assisting with extra training or giving families the ability to offer foster children more opportunities,” Subeck said. “This legislation and the entire Foster Forward package is a critical first step in improving the lives of foster children and families.”
Calls for reform increased as the system faced a dramatic increase in children entering foster care in light of an increasingly prevalent opioid crisis.
A report by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) earlier this year showed an increase of 20 percent in children entering foster care over the last few years, double the national average, illuminating a strong relationship between the dramatic trend and a similar rise in opioid-related hospitalization.
An estimated 80 percent of open child welfare cases are related to substance abuse.
As more adults fall victim to opioid abuse, more children have been found to have neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, in which exposure to drugs as a fetus gives way to addiction as an infant. Diagnosis of the condition has quadrupled since 2006.
“Our findings confirm the importance of these efforts and should serve to inform legislators and advocates as they continue to craft policies and practices to build up families and protect vulnerable children,” said Natalie Goodnow, a WILL research fellow. "The bottom line is, the growing number of at-risk children in out-of-home care deserve the same care and opportunities to succeed as every child in the Badger State.”