The growing cost for counties to place children outside the home and the increase in child protection caseloads prompted northern Wisconsin officials to ask the state for more funding as part of Superior Days in Madison this week.
In Douglas County, social workers average about 19 cases each that involve working with more than 30 kids, said Doreen Wehmas, deputy director and children services manager with Douglas County Health and Human Services. Wehmas said they would need to hire three more positions to meet caseload recommendations outlined by state and national child welfare advocates.
In nearby Bayfield County, each social worker oversees about 15 cases. Officials there have struggled to retain workers who move to take positions in other counties with higher pay scales, said Bayfield County Human Services Director Elizabeth Skulan.
“We have social workers who just don’t want to work in child protective services because of the stress involved and the fact that they don’t feel that they can do the best for their families,” Skulan said.
“In Bayfield County, one of our issues is we’ve had an increase in the cost of out-of-home care. When we have to remove a child, whether it’s in a foster home or residential treatment placement, those costs continue to increase every year and those costs are absorbed by the county,” Hanson said. “Those are mandated services that we continue to have to pay.”
Most recent figures available that were provided by Bayfield County show the costs associated with those placements increased from $448,013 in 2016 to $699,429 in 2017. Out-of-home placement costs for Douglas County rose from about $1.1 million in 2017 to roughly $1.7 million in 2018.
“I think that there is a recognition and a need that the closer we can get to that dollar number the better chance we have with stemming this crisis,” Amundson said.
Amundson didn’t provide any details about what specific amount the agency is requesting under the next budget.
“Secretary-designee Amundson has been in conversations with the Governor’s Office about what is best for our kids and potential ways to address the need for more resources,” wrote DCF spokeswoman Gina Paige in an email.