On Saturday, February 25, SaintA joined several local and state partners for a discussion entitled, “The Impact of Foster Care on the Black Community of Milwaukee,” hosted by the Community Brainstorming Conference.
The conversation featured Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, Secretary Eloise Anderson, along with the following panelists who work in Milwaukee’s child welfare system: Ann Leinfelder Grove, Executive Vice President of Programs, SaintA ; Jermaine Reed, Executive Director, Fresh Start Family Services; and Dr. Ramel Smith, President, BLAQUESMITH Psychological Consultative Services.
The moderator was the Honorable Russell W. Stamper Sr., the chair of Community Brainstorming Conference.
The venue, a church on the city’s northwest side, was standing-room only and overflowing with emotional investment in the wellbeing of black foster children.
The State of Our Children
Each panelist was given about 15 minutes to address the audience comprised of parents, child welfare case managers, judges and other elected officials, and engaged community members.
“Adverse childhood experiences – ACEs – are a public health crisis,” said Leinfelder-Grove. “We know childhood trauma leads to a host of physical, mental and behavioral consequences for our children and families. We have a responsibility to do this work in a way that’s trauma-informed.”
Smith had a similar, but slightly different, take on how – and why – many kids struggle with behavior and learning: Sugar. It’s not just sugar per se; it’s the inclination and busyness of life to sweep health and behavioral issues under the rug rather than truly nurture a child’s mind, body and spirit.
The responsibility to take better care of our children rests with all of us, Smith said.
Reed spoke mostly about the disproportionality of black children in the foster care system. He also expressed concern about the high likelihood for black youth to age out of foster care.
A solution to the latter, Reed said, could come in the form of more black foster parents caring for black children.
Ongoing Questions & Answers
During the second half of the event, panelists fielded questions and comments from attendees.
Q&A participants included those directly impacted by foster care and their family members; child welfare and mental health professionals; and elected officials. Some waited nearly an hour for their turn to speak.
Many participants shared concerns about the foster care system locally, and as a whole. “The system just doesn’t work for our children,” said one community member. It was a sentiment that resonated with many of the about 100 in attendance.
As Secretary Anderson mentioned in her remarks, the foster care system is quite singular and is a “very old model of removing kids from homes.” She said a better and still-developing way is to provide services to families at risk of entering the system.
There is more work to be done and community conversations like this one are crucial to making improvements. “Unless we have these courageous, honest conversations, we’ll never get to a better place,” said Reed.