Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare Director Seeks Transfer


Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare Director Seeks Transfer

JSOnline ^ | December 15, 2008 | Crocker Stephenson

Posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 8:23:21 AM by Diana in Wisconsin

Denise Revels Robinson announced Monday that she will step down from her position as director of the embattled state-run Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare.

In a letter to the state Department of Children and Families, its private agencies and bureau staff, Revels Robinson wrote that she had requested a transfer within the department.

“The details of my new position are being finalized; however, I expect to begin my duties in January 2009,” she wrote.

The state-run bureau in Milwaukee has been under fire for the way it and one of its private contractors, La Causa, handled the case of Christopher Thomas, the 13-month-old foster child police say was beaten to death by his aunt last month, despite regular visits from a La Causa caseworker.

Department of Children and Families officials admitted Friday that a series of serious mistakes were made in Christopher’s case, and promised to enact sweeping reforms in the Milwaukee County system.

The La Causa caseworker has been reassigned and placed on probation and her supervisor demoted. The nonprofit agency that employs them is under threat of losing its $11 million contract with the state.

Reggie Bicha, secretary of the department, also vowed Friday that every foster child in Milwaukee County 3 years old or younger will be examined by a nurse and that caseworkers will be required to double the number of home visits they make to foster children under 3.

Revels Robinson became director of what was then the Milwaukee Child Welfare System in February 1997, a year before the state, in response to a class-action lawsuit, took over the Milwaukee County child welfare system.

She began her career in 1969 as a foster care caseworker in New York City. She came to Milwaukee from Minnesota, where she had been the director of the Family and Children’s Services Division with the Minnesota Department of Human Services since 1992.

“Child welfare has been my life’s work,” Revels Robinson wrote in her letter. “However, at almost 62 years of age, I believe it is time for me to take my professional life down another path.”

In a statement, Bicha said Revels Robinson would move to the Division of Prevention and Service Integration. “She will continue to work on protecting children, strengthening families and building Wisconsin communities,” he said.

Bicha thanked Revels Robinson for her leadership of the Milwaukee bureau, during which the number of children living in out-of-home care in Milwaukee County shrank from 7,000 to fewer than 3,000 and hundreds have been adopted.

“She has dedicated her entire career, nearly 40 years, to serving children and families,” he said.

Change welcomed

Child welfare advocates welcomed Monday’s announcement, but warned that changes in leadership would not be, in and of themselves, sufficient to solve Milwaukee County’s child welfare problems.

“Leadership is unquestionably a determining factor in how a child welfare system is run and whether it protects children,” said Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director of New York-based Children’s Rights, the organization that filed the class-action lawsuit against Wisconsin in 1993. The lawsuit settled in 2002, and Children’s Rights continues to monitor the Milwaukee child welfare system.

“But merely changing the leadership of BMCW is not going to make Milwaukee’s children safer unless it is coupled with a commitment to address the system-wide problems that are leaving children in harm’s way to begin with,” she said.

Susan Conwell, executive director of Kids Matter Inc., a Milwaukee-based foster and kinship care advocacy group, saw Revels Robinson’s departure from the bureau as step forward in accountability.

“The good thing is that the department is accepting responsibility,” she said. “But what it means is wide open.

“They haven’t announced a plan. If they are serious about getting people in the community together and putting their shoulders to the wheel, that’s great.”

Kia Woda-Rudolph of West Allis is the foster mother of a 17-month-old girl. She and her husband, Joe, have adopted two of their foster children: a daughter now 5 and a son now 9. She is also president of Voices United Inc., a support group for foster, kinship and adoptive parents.

The foster care system, she said, “hasn’t changed, hasn’t gotten better, in 10 years.”

“We need positive change in the bureau,” she said. “It starts at the top. Change is good.”

Sen. Robert Jauch (D-Poplar), chairman of the Senate Committee on Children and Families and Workforce Development, said current economic troubles will put Revels Robinson’s replacement in a difficult situation. Adequate support must come from the entire state.

“We all share the social and moral responsibility of protecting children,” he said. “In memory of Christopher Thomas, we should all step up.”

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