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ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU * ACLU NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE * NEWS RELEASE ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Wisconsin, Milwaukee County; Says Officials Knew, Did Nothing About Abuse and Neglect of Children For IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 1, 1993 Milwaukee, Wisconsin -- The Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wisconsin today sued the state of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County government, charging that they are systematically denying Milwaukee children their constitutional rights under state and federal law. The lawsuit filed today asks the federal court to order Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin to reform the county's child welfare system so that it can begin to help rather than continue to hurt the children of Milwaukee. The civil rights action claims that officials in the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services have long been aware of the failure of the system, but refused to take corrective action to protect children who are victims of abuse and neglect in families. The suit also says county officials have not provided appropriate services and placements to children who have entered the foster care system. "Thousands of lives have been destroyed because public officials did nothing," said Marcia Robinson Lowry, the Director of the ACLU's Children Rights Project. "One young girl -- Jeanine B. -- has been in six different foster homes in six years," Lowry continued. "She has been beaten and sexually abused by foster family members, yet the Milwaukee system never tried to find a proper foster home or one which could adopt her. This child has suffered six years of anguish at government expense." Governor Tommy G. Thompson and the State of Wisconsin are named in the suit because the state is accused of consciously underfunding Milwaukee's foster care system, even though it was aware that services for Milwaukee children are inadequate and that children are being harmed. Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said that "although additional federal dollars have been made available to the state for reimbursement of Milwaukee foster care costs, the state has diverted these funds to non-child welfare programs." Wisconsin, like all states that receive federal funding under the Adoption Assistance Act, must comply with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and initiate prompt investigations into reports of abuse and neglect. Ahmuty said the state and the county failed to comply, as in the case of Alan A., where County employees were told of the 10-year-old boy being badly beaten with a belt by his mother's boyfriend but never investigated. The lawsuit is being filed as a class action on behalf of nearly 5,000 children who are in the custody of the Milwaukee Department of Human Services (DHS) as well as additional Milwaukee children who are victims of abuse or neglect that the Department knows or should know about. These children include, among others, the following: Jeanine B., a 12-year-old who has been in the Milwaukee DHS system for six years. In custody because of her mother's neglect and the possibility that her mother's boyfriend was sexually abusing her, Jeanine has been bounced from foster home to foster home -- six different homes in six years. DHS is aware of Jeanine's increasing emotional problems but has failed to find her a good foster home or provide her with needed services. Its plan to have parental rights terminated so that she could be adopted remained the same with no action taken in 1991, 1992 and 1993. Because of DHS inaction, Jeanine continues to be irreparably harmed: growing up without a permanent family and already deprived of the chance to have a normal childhood. James B., an eight-year old boy, has been in Milwaukee DHS custody practically all of his life. His mother, who also grew up in foster homes, could not adequately care for him. DHS never provided any services to help Mrs. B. find a way to resume custody nor moved forward on plans to terminate her parental rights and have James adopted. He languished in foster homes with sporadic, painful visits from his mother. He now shakes with fear at the thought he might be returned to Mrs. B. whom he no longer views as his mother. DHS continues to fail to act and James continues to be deprived of a loving, stable family. Aline H., a 12-year-old girl, and her brothers Douglas R., eight, and Maurice R., six, were taken into custody in 1988 after being physically and sexually abused in the home of their mother. DHS had known for over a year the home was unstable but did nothing to provide services or protect the three children from the abuse. Maurice has severe emotional problems as a result of the abuse, but is now in the home of Mrs. R. who would like to adopt him and provide him with the special attention he needs. However, DHS changed Maurice's planning goal to long-term foster care and refused to permit Mrs. R. to adopt him. Meanwhile, Aline and Douglas are in the foster home of Mrs. G, who happens to be Mrs. R's daughter. Mrs. G. would like to adopt the brother and sister, and Aline and Douglas have told their worker they would like to be adopted by her. Again, DHS has refused to proceed with adoption and set a goal of long-term foster care. They have also forced Aline to visit with her mother, against the wishes of Aline and the advice of her therapist. Because of DHS's failure to take timely and meaningful steps toward having these children adopted, they are being deprived of that opportunity for a permanent home and are at increasing risk of becoming long-term wards of the state. The cases above, and others described in the complaint, do not happen only in Milwaukee. Chris Dunn, staff attorney for the Children's Rights Project, which is engaged in lawsuits in other areas, said that "Milwaukee is a severe example of the same problem we see in city after city, state after state." "This is a national problem," Dunn said. "Children, who should be the first citizens to receive a city's attention and care, are the last. Officials at a certain level don't respond and do their job unless they are threatened with or, in the case of Milwaukee, actually hit with a lawsuit." The Children's Rights Project of the ACLU is the oldest and largest national program using litigation, education, and advocacy to reform child welfare systems and improve services for our country's most vulnerable children and families. The ACLU of Wisconsin has defended the constitutional rights of all Wisconsin residents since 1930. It is a state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. -- endit -- ============================================================= ACLU Free Reading Room | A publications and information resource of the gopher:// | American Civil Liberties Union National Office | | "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"


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