Program Seeks to Keep Kids out of Child Welfare

SaintA has an exceptional child welfare program, but a new endeavor aims to keep families out of it completely. 

The Early Intervention Services (EIS) program, a subset of the agency’s Intensive In-Home Program, is a short- term intervention that connects families with long-term supports. EIS case managers work with Initial Assessment (IA), the government entity that receives and analyzes reports of child maltreatment.

Able to Intervene Earlier (and Faster) 
Under the law, IA has 60 days to investigate and make a determination as to what happens next. EIS is all about moving things along much quicker.

If there is immediate danger, IA creates a protective plan. An EIS plan must be finished within two weeks from the initial EIS referral date.

EIS was created through a collaboration among SaintA, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services. SaintA and Children’s are the two agencies contracted to provide child welfare services in Milwaukee County.

The EIS program, which aims to address underlying issues and safety concerns, has been in existence for about a year. To date, the two organizations, SaintA and Children’s, have provided these specialized early intervention services to about 90 families. 

“This is an innovative way to preserve families and prevent children from having to enter the child welfare system,” said Lisa Vega, SaintA’s Child Welfare Program Director. And the effort is unique among Wisconsin’s 72 counties, she said.

SaintA’s Intensive In Home program is very different from the way things are done in the other 71 counties in the state, Lisa said. “And based on our experience, we want to figure out the best way to help these families and keep them in their homes.”

Avoid Foster Care Completely  
In addition to moving things along sooner, the goals of EIS are to collect information about a family’s functioning and dynamics and to prevent child welfare involvement after a case is closed. SaintA has seven case managers who work with families in the program. They are led by Rosemary Brunner, Child Welfare Supervisor.

“EIS is very proactive vs. reactive,” Rosemary said. “It’s about addressing issues before things have the potential to get much worse.”

Services based on safety concerns include food, clothing, housing, instruction on how to manage a  household, daycare and respite assistance, and help for children with special needs. Interventions that are more change oriented include household support such as obtaining car seats and safety gates; in-home health care referrals; mental health, alcohol and drug abuse referrals; parenting education; social support and recreational activities; transportation assistance and therapy and counseling.

“There are a lot of resources available in the county, but people just don’t know about them, or they don’t know how to navigate the systems,” Rosemary said.

Case managers interact with clients multiple times a week, with a goal of “getting in and out as quickly as we can,” she said.

“The biggest issue is housing,” Rosemary said. SaintA collects its own resources and helps people get on waiting lists for low-income housing. Case managers also help with transportation and filling out paperwork

“A lot of it is simply pointing people in the right direction,” Rosemary said. “It’s not that these are bad parents, they just get into bad situations.”

Kate Angers, director of Family Case Management and Support at Children’s, was involved in the creation of EIS. She said she had been pushing for such a program for a long time. 

According to Angers, foster care is the wrong intervention for many families. “We felt there was an opportunity to do more, that there were more families in the community who could benefit from this and not have their children removed.”

Real-Life Example
While individual cases are all different, Rosemary created an example of a typical client. Tia (not her real name) is 23, and has three children ages 4, 2 and 8 months. Tia’s mother has mental health issues so she has been living with  her aunt most of her life.

She wants to get her own place. Her children’s father provides no support and is in and out of her life. Tia has no high school diploma, is unemployed and needs child care to be able to go out and look for a job. She wants to get a GED and to find work as a certified nursing assistant.

Rosemary said the EIS program can, among other things, help Tia tap into supports to help ensure her kids are safe. It can also help her get daycare assistance, which Rosemary said is Tia’s largest barrier to success. EIS staff can connect her with free services that are available in the community, from food banks to places to get children’s beds, and provide oversight as she moves forward.

They also would offer to help her get counseling to address her long-term fears about life, including the idea that her children may grow up being unstable.

“Preventive programs like this are crucial moving forward,” Rosemary said.

Said Lisa: “I’m super excited about this program because I hope it can help increase the number of kids who can stay in their own homes and decrease the need for out of home care.”




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