January 14, 1999

Department of Health and Family Services
Division of Children and Family Services

To: Area Administrators/Assistant Area Administrators
DCFS Bureau Directors
County Departments of Community Programs Directors
County Departments of Developmental Disabilities Directors
County Departments of Human Services Directors
County Departments of Social Services Directors
Program Office Directors/Section Chiefs
Tribal Chairpersons/Human Services Facilitators
From: Susan N. Dreyfus
Re: 1997 Wisconsin Acts 237 and 294; Changes to Ch. 48,
    Wis. Stats.

1997 Wisconsin Acts 237 and 294 (attached) made some changes to Ch. 48, Wis. Stats. This memo will attempt to summarize some of the more significant of those changes. Many of the changes were made in order to bring Wisconsin statutes into compliance with the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Some of these items will require additional guidelines which will be issued under a separate memo.

  1. In numerous places throughout Ch. 48, language was added to address the safety of the child. For example, whenever a statute addressed the issue of a child’s return home or appropriateness of a placement, language was added to address the child’s safe return home and assessing for the safety and appropriateness of the placement. Another example is that where the statute referred to "the adoption of children into stable families" the statute now refers to promoting "the adoption of children into safe and stable families." The safety of the child’s placement is now a factor that must be reviewed at all permanency plan reviews.

  2. This Act made changes to some of the requirements about which hearings foster parents have to receive notice of and when they have a right to make a statement. More information about this has been provided in a separate memo.

  3. For the first time, Wisconsin statutes address the issue of concurrent planning stating that the agency may, while making reasonable efforts to reunify a family, make reasonable efforts to place the child for adoption, with a guardian or in some other alternative permanent placement. As more information is formulated regarding guidelines of how to implement concurrent planning and appropriate cases in which to do so, that information will be provided.

  4. Also for the first time, Wisconsin statutes provide for situations in which agencies are not required to make reasonable efforts to reunite a family. Only a court can make the determination that reasonable efforts are not required to reunite a family. If this decision is made, a permanency hearing must be held within 30 days to determine the permanency plan for the child (s. 48.355(2d)(c). The four main situations when this option is allowed are:
  1. when a parent has subjected the child to aggravated circumstances, which are defined in s. 48.355(2d)(a)1.

  2. when one parent is convicted of intentional or reckless homicide of the other parent.

  3. when the parent has been convicted of certain crimes (defined in s. 48.355(2d)(b)2.) such as physical or sexual abuse to the child or another child of the parent and that violation resulted in great bodily harm or substantial bodily harm to the child or;

  4. if the parental rights of the parent to another child have been involuntarily terminated.
  1. In determining the length of time a child has been out of his or her home, whichever date is earlier of the following two options should be used: the date on which the court first found that child was subjected to abuse or neglect or 60 days after the date on which the child was removed from his or her home.

  2. If the permanent goal for a child is to be placed for adoption, with a guardian or in some other alternative permanent placement, the permanency plan must include a description of the efforts that have been made to achieve that goal.

  3. The amount of time in which a child can be out of his or her home before a permanency plan review must examine the appropriateness of the permanency plan and the circumstances which prevent the child from being returned home or placed in another permanent setting has been changed from two years to 15 of the most recent 22 months.

  4. An additional ground for termination of parental rights was added to include when a court of competent jurisdiction has found that the child was abandoned when the child was under one year of age. This finding must have been made under s. 48.13(2) or s. 948.20 or comparable statutes in other state or federal laws.

  5. The law now requires that a termination of parental rights petition be filed under certain circumstances (defined in s. 48.417) unless the child is being cared for by a relative, the child’s permanency plan indicates that termination of parental rights is not in the best interests of the child or the agency primarily responsible for providing services to the child and the family has not made reasonable efforts.

  6. The Department of Health and Family Services shall be provided information regarding any person who is denied a foster care license for reasons related to the caregiver background check. This information should be sent to Bureau of Regulation and Licensing, Division of Children and Family Services, 1 West Wilson Street, P. O. Box 8916, Madison, Wisconsin 53708-8916

  7. An additional provision in s. 48.415(2) related to involuntary termination of parental rights was created for a child who has a continuing need of protection or services. The new option applies to a child who on three or more occasions has been adjudicated to be in need of protection or services and placed outside of his or her home by an order of the juvenile court due to conditions caused by the parent. This option allows an agency to seek a termination of parental rights for a child who experiences multiple placements even if they are of short duration.

Please review the statutes carefully as the changes referenced above are only the most significant ones.

Out-of-Home Care Planner
1 West Wilson Street
P. O. Box 8916
Madison, Wisconsin 53708-8916
(608) 261-8084
Fax: (608) 264-6750


cc Directors, Private Child Placing Agencies
County Foster Care Coordinators

The Department of Children and Families, protecting children, strengthening families, building communities.