Chippewa Valley (WQOW) - Eau Claire and Chippewa County Child Protective Services are reaching out to Governor Scott Walker, asking for more funding in his next budget after seeing an increase of children in need of help.
According to a resolution drafted by the Chippewa County Health and Human Services Board, the number of Child Protective Services (CPS) referrals across the state has gone up 30 percent since 2007, but there has not been an increase for services since 2009.
"Across a five year period, we have increase our child welfare expenditures cost by $1 million," Eau Claire county Human Services Director Diane Cable said.
Cable said on paper, the number of CPS referrals in Eau Claire county may not seem to be rising with 1331 in 2013, 1,388 in 2014 and 1,242 in 2015, but she said those numbers only reflect the number of cases, and the number of children affected in each case can vary. A referral is when someone in the community reports a concern about a child if, for example, the child has physical marks of abuse on his body.
"We are seeing the individuals coming to us at a much higher level of risk, so moving forward to resolving situations is taking much longer," Cable said.
In Chippewa County, there were 703 referrals in 2013, 820 in 2014, and 1,033 in 2015. As of Aug. 31, there were 546 referrals for 2016. Those referrals are looked at by three social workers in Chippewa County and six social workers in Eau Claire County. They are "screened-in" if there needs to be action taken, and those cases are on the rise across the state, putting more pressure on social workers who have a time limit to respond to cases.
"There is a cost of maintaining child welfare social workers working in this field when they are encountering these types of dramatic situations every single day," Cable said.
In Eau Claire County, there were 391 screened-in reports in 2015. Chippewa County had 176 in 2015.
"The standards as far as overall workload, obviously are beyond the capacity," Chippewa County Director of Human Services Larry Winter said.
Eau Claire and Chippewa Counties said they see an increase because families are feeling the pressure and emotional stress of not being able to afford their basic needs, parents do not know how to raise mentally and physically healthy children, and the biggest issue is there is an increase in drug and alcohol addiction.
"We would project over a course of a year's time right now, we are spending about $1 million specifically on the methamphetamine issue as it relates to families, parents and their children," Winter said.
For Chippewa County, methamphetamine is directly related to 75 percent of its cases. In Eau Claire County, substance abuse as a whole is related in up to 80 percent.
"It really does have a significant impact, not just on keeping children safe and the lives of children and families, but on our communities, and the impact on our communities long-term," Cable said. "It affects how successful children are in school, and it begins to have a larger impact on adults and an economic perspective."
Winter said solving the problem will require more than just battling the drug. He said the protection of children is a community collaboration that requires a community solution to methamphetamine use.
"What is the root issue? I've been doing this work for a couple of decades now, and I can guarantee when we have meth, we will get through this time, but then it is going to be the next drug," Winter said. "It Could be cocaine. It could be opiates. It could be alcohol. There will be a next time, so unless we take a look at the cultural issue that surrounds this, we will only be dealing with the tip of the iceberg."
Chippewa and Eau Claire County CPS said there are ways everyday residents can help their cause by donating to organizations like United Way that offer prevention-oriented initiatives and help teach successful parenting. Staff said they also need foster parents so children who do need to be removed from their homes and have no other family in the area to stay with can continue living in the county. Winter said if possible, the children are not removed from their homes. He said often times, there are services offered that can mitigate the issues the family may have, but when it is a significant safety issue, they place the child out of the home. Through Aug. 31, 2016, there have been 83 children placed out of their homes.
Chippewa County CPS is presenting its resolution to the Health and Human Services Board Thursday at 7:45 a.m. Eau Claire County CPS will present its resolution to the board later in October. Both counties said this is part of a joint resolution that is being written in counties all across Wisconsin.