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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
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:
þ 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
þ 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.
þ 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 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
"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
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.
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