MADISON — A bipartisan package of 13 bills designed to support foster children and reduce the need for foster care in Wisconsin passed the State Assembly on Tuesday.
The Foster Forward Legislative Agenda includes innovation grants to county human services departments to create prevention programs, tuition remission for former foster children at UW institutions, and a committee to study caseload standards for social workers.
The package also includes provisions to help foster children get dental and mental health care, streamline the termination of parental rights for cases where reunification is impossible and legal representation for biological parents during the court process. The measure now goes to the Senate.
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“Many of the ideas for these bills came from social workers, foster parents and judges in La Crosse who came to our public hearings,” said Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, who co-chaired the Speaker’s Task Force on Foster Care. “They brought their experiences from the frontlines of foster care and from that we created Foster Forward Legislative Agenda. These everyday heroes have been the true champions of these bills”
There are more than 7,000 children in out-of-home care each year, according to the Department of Children and Families. This number has climbed steadily, in part due to the heroin and opioid epidemic. Of those 7,000 children, 20 percent are between the ages of 2 and 4, and 17.3 percent are teens ages 14 to 16.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty issued a report Wednesday stating that the state’s rising opioid crisis is feeding the growth in the number of children placed outside their home.
“Many of the ideas for these bills came from social workers, foster parents and judges in La Crosse who came to our public hearings.” State Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska