Ruben Rosario’s Pioneer Press article Today captures the voicelessness and invisibility of children in child protection systems and the great need they have for health care and early learning and brings attention to KARA’s effort to support David Strand’s (KARA board member) resolution to make access to these important services a right and not a privilege in Minnesota.
This is a big deal and if enough voices can be raised in support of David’s resolution, life could get a whole lot better for Minnesota children in a very short time. Please read Ruben’s article, sign the petition, and share with your social networks and friends.
Ruben Rosario: He hopes the public will soon notice the children he can’t ignore
- Mike Tikkanen of Hopkins wants you to sign a petition he supports. It reads like the Constitution:
“In the spirit of a) enlightened self-interest and b) in order to form a more perfect union, we the people of Minnesota declare that all children have an equal right to preventative health care (the right to see a doctor before they are sick) including prenatal care and to quality early learning (pre-K) programs,” the petition states.
“Through the implementation of this policy, access to health care and early learning will cease to be a privilege and Minnesota will lead the nation in restoring access to equal opportunity, the American Dream,” it ends.
As of this writing, 16 folks have signed it, and nine of them are not even from the state. If it doesn’t garner at least 50 signatures, it may be dropped from the Moveon.org petition site.
The lack of interest or awareness pretty much underlines the title of the book Tikkanen penned a few years ago: “The Invisible Children.”
Abused and neglected children often “have no voice in their homes, the courts or at the Legislature,” Tikkanen, founder of a merger and acquisitions company, told me last week. “These children don’t have a lobby, like the prison lobby or others.”
Brokering the buying and selling of companies is Tikkanen’s day job, how he puts food on the table.
But advocating for such kids has been his passion for nearly 20 years and led to Kids At Risk Action (KARA), a nonprofit he established with the help of others a decade ago.
‘WHEN WILL I BE NORMAL?’
At the urging of a Toastmaster buddy, Tikkanen raised his hand to become a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Guardians at litem are regular folks from various walks of life who represent the child’s interests in child-protection and family court proceedings.
The stories he tells stir the soul and raise the hair on the back of one’s head.
His first case involved a 4-year old he met in the suicide-watch wing of a Fairview medical facility in 1996.
Then there was a pair of sisters, age 7 and 4. The older one was being prostituted by her single parent. Police went to the home 49 times because of calls. Yet the two kids remained.
They were finally removed after the last call after the older girl threatened to kill the younger one in the presence of the cops, Tikkanen recalled.
Then there was the 8-year old boy tied to a bed, sexually abused, beaten and starved for nearly four years by a custodial father who, despite having spent two-thirds of his life in prison, was given full custody of the child because his incarcerated mother apparently was less fit to raise the kid.
The boy had been living in a foster home without incident until he was sent to live with his dad. He was prescribed Prozac, Ritalin and other psychotropic drugs to prevent him from hurting himself or others. The child would spend a turbulent life — he was kicked out of 29 homes before he aged out of the foster care system.
“I took him to play miniature golf when he was about 11,” Tikkanen recalled. “I remember that he tugged at my sleeve, looked up at me and said ‘When will I be normal?’ ”
That kid, Tikkanen estimates, cost the county where his case presides and the state more than $3 million.
EARLY-CHILDHOOD EDUCATION PAYS
Tikkanen believes the plight of such kids falls well under the public radar and, year in and year out, is overshadowed by other legislative funding or policy priorities.
He notes that 90 percent of kids who come into the juvenile justice system hail from child-protection cases.
He spent 12 years as a guardian ad litem before burnout set in and he diverted his energies to the nonprofit and speaking engagements touching on the topic. He is encouraged by the gradual acceptance of former Minneapolis Federal Reserve director of research Art Rolnick’s study along with a colleague that concluded quality early-childhood programs return $16 in benefits to society for every dollar invested in such efforts after nearly five years.
This legislative session is weighing a slew of proposed bills to fund such programs and establish a work group to implement a statewide uniform method to screen child-protection assessments.
Although a proposed bill plans to create early-childhood education scholarships, the program will reach only 2 percent of the estimated 42,910 children ages 3 to 5 from low-income families, according to a 2012 study by the Minnesota Department of Education.
“The national average is 25 percent, and Minnesota has the lowest rate among the 38 states that offer the programs,” Tikkanen wrote in a recent blog post on his group’s site.
Overall, an estimated 6 million children come in contact with child-protection services annually in the nation. In 2010, 84 county and two tribal child-protection agencies screened more than 56,500 allegations of child maltreatment in Minnesota, according to the state legislative auditor’s office.
“There’s still work to be done,” Tikkanen said.
He understands the petition is mostly symbolic. He has great respect for folks in the child-protection system and legislators who daily try to do the right thing by these kids. But he believes there is still a public awareness gap.
“I just don’t see the public outrage and concern as there should be for these kids,” he said.
I don’t sign petitions for personal and journalistic reasons. But I might consider making an exception for this one.
To learn more about the Kids At Risk Action group, go to invisiblechildren.org.
To learn more about the petition, go to tinyurl.com/lcpxy4t.