Damakant Jayshi

The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has expressed its interest to work with Marathon County on a revised pilot family reunion project that failed to get a nod from the Board of Supervisors last month.

“The DCF did reach out to Marathon County and expressed again an interest to work to address some of the concerns that the board (of supervisors) had,” said County Administrator Lance Leonhard, at a meeting of the Marathon County Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.”

Leonhard made the comments to update the committee on the nixed Family Keys project and said he could develop a revised program into the budget, if the committee is interested in the proposition.

The Marathon County Board of Supervisors rejected the 2-year Family Keys project last month. Though the required budgetary procedure to accept the federal grant of $327,100, funds already secured, had the support from a majority of supervisors, it failed to garner the required two-third majority vote.

The two-year Family Keys project would provide a transitional home for parents who have met all court-ordered requirements to be reunited with their children but struggle to find appropriate housing. Requirements imposed by the court include parenting education, AODA and/or mental health evaluations and counseling, supervised or unsupervised visitation with their children, cooperation with a case manager, and safe and adequate housing. Parents who meet all requirements but lack safe housing cannot have their children back, resulting in additional foster. The Family Keys program aims to address this gap.

Leonhard said a firm understanding of what the potential revisions to the program might look like are not yet clear, but pointed out that discussion with the DCF centered on resolving concerns over the congregate living aspect of the program, potential risks to the county associated with signing leases, or the idea that the county would be providing public housing and the concern about how quickly program participants moved from grant-supported housing into a home of their own.

The discussion with DCF, said the county administrator, looked into the possibility of having single-family housing instead of congregate living. Some supervisors who voted against the project said that they would support it if the program opted for single-family units instead of putting three or families together for months in a transitional home.

As for the concerns related to public housing, discussions centered on whether there is an opportunity to provide rental assistance to families to get them to be in a stable position where their children can be returned to them.

Leonhard said he would update the committee with details of their discussion with DCF as they emerge.