Roses on WallIt hurts me to witness people in high positions that are responsible for child protection (Toni Carter’s Star Tribune article) make claims that there’s nothing to see here, things are just fine, child protection is working as it needs to.

There is very little fine about it and by accident or design, the information about it is hard to find and rarely published.  From almost any measurable perspective and many years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem within the system, there are not enough resources, record keeping is poor,  child protection cases need to be over the top to get into the system and these children stand only a small chance of getting what they need to recover from the years of abuse and neglect they have suffered.

Things have gotten worse since MN went from screening out 1/3 of the cases to screening out 2/3.

Screening out 90% of cases (4 MN counties do) is a very big deal and ought to be identified as such.  49 police calls to a home where the seven year old was prostituted. This little girl was screened out by the police 49 times (the police are mandated reporters).   

My stories are not rare events or isolated cases.  If they were recorded and written about, we (the people/legislators) could discuss better answers and make life more livable for thousands of MN children.  

Abused and neglected children have no voice.  They are invisible and silent until a mandated reporter makes a report and it is recorded somewhere (and the report is not ignored or discarded) or a baby is found raped or murdered and makes the paper.  Thank you Brandon Stahl -Star Tribune reporter.  The discrepancies between counties when it comes to child protection is a very serious matter.  It’s not OK to leave children in dangerous homes (it is cruel) and it is not OK to screen out 90% of child abuse reports.

Former MN Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz statements that “90% of the youth in the juvenile justice system have come through child protection services” and, “the difference between that poor child and a felon, is about eight years” are still true today.

Social workers, educators, foster and adoptive parents, and others working with abused and neglected children work with the training, resources, and support that they have.  Short them and we short the children.  

While counties offer services to some of the 2/3 of families that are screened out in MN, most of those services are declined.  The child remains in a home that could very well be toxic and nothing is done.  About half of my CASA guardian ad-Litem cases involved child sexual abuse (one as young as two, two as young as four, and none over eleven when the abuse started).

The good news is that we are finally talking about it.  Until this onion is peeled, and the layers of inadequate and problematic policies are identified and discussed, we will live with the racial disparities, education, safety, and justice issues that are solvable except for our own negligence.

Toni Carter’s argument against comparing MN to other states being misleading proves the point that we are scared to death to measure or investigate parts of this onion.

We are living with fourth and fifth generations of abused and neglected children having their own families of abused and neglected children.  Coping skills do not come with the stork. Non-coping children become dysfunctional, mentally unhealthy adults.

Once the cycle is broken, children grow up to lead productive lives, have families with happy successful children.  Until the cycle is broken, we will live with very unhealthy adults, crime, troubled schools, and full prisons.  The cycle will not be broken until we put these issues on the table, discuss them, and come up with better answers (this is up to us).  

I’m tired of people talking about how highly our community values children.

We pay daycare workers about the same wage as food service workers (the least paid people in the country) and our day care workers don’t have degrees in mental health or other education requirements like they must in other advanced nations.  We expel more children from daycare than any other industrialized nation.

The U.S. leads the world in sexually transmitted diseases among its children.  When measured, about a third of the children in child protection are taking psychotropic medications (they can’t argue about it), in juvenile justice that number is doubled.

We trail the industrialized world in child poverty (number 28) and our record on prenatal care and fetal alcohol births are abysmal).   This is how we value children.

Social workers are trained to not speak about these things and without them, there really is no one to speak for abused and neglected children unless the child is lucky enough to have a CASA guardian ad-litem, or someone else willing to speak out.  These children need more attention and a louder voice.

Become that voice for children – contact your legislator about supporting funding for early childhood programs (call now, its important).

 

Minnesota counties ‘screen out’ most child abuse reports

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2014 – 10:09 AM

Bill would require better tracking of child abuse cases that are screened out without investigation.

Minnesota’s counties received nearly 68,000 reports of child abuse or neglect last year but closed most of those cases without investigation or assessment.

A review of state and federal data by the Star Tribune shows that the number of child abuse reports being screened out without any protective action rose last year to the third-highest rate in the country.

In all, the state screened out more than 48,000 such abuse reports last year ­— and authorities often made their decisions after only gathering information from a phone call or a fax.

What happens to those cases is largely unknown. Records are not open to the public. Many counties also don’t keep track of closed cases, potentially resulting in multiple reports of abuse of a child without intervention. A bill advancing through the Legislature would require counties to keep information on screened-out cases for a year to spot recurring child abuse.

“We’re finding gross discrepancies in what one county does vs. another,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.

Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota screened out nearly 93 percent of its cases last year, the highest in the state, taking in only three of the 41 child abuse complaints it received, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Le Sueur County, about an hour south of ­Minneapolis, was second highest, rejecting 89 percent of the 453 abuse reports it received.

Houston County in ­southeastern Minnesota closed only 5 percent of its complaints without investigation, the state’s lowest percentage.

The screened-out reports can be an early warning. Nicollet County received a report in 2007 of suspected child neglect by Mona and Russell Hauer but chose not to investigate, records show.

Five years later, Mona Hauer brought her 8-year-old son to a Mankato hospital. His bones pressed against his skin and he weighed just 35 pounds. Doctors admitted him to intensive care and diagnosed him with failure to thrive and anemia. Authorities accused the parents of starving the child and confining him in a basement, and charged the two with child neglect.

Only six counties screened out a higher percentage of their reports last year than Nicollet.

“This is something to be extremely concerned about,” said John Mattingly, a senior fellow at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which studies child welfare. “It’s happening because the initial criteria they have set allows too many cases to be dismissed before you even take an initial look at them. If you want to know what that’s about, it’s about controlling caseloads.”

Erin Sullivan Sutton, DHS’ assistant commissioner for children and family services, defended the state’s record of investigating child abuse and neglect by pointing to a state audit released in 2012.

That audit found child protection agencies made decisions on whether to investigate in a “reasonable and deliberative manner.”

Sullivan Sutton said screen-outs have nothing to do with caseload or budgetary concerns. Rather, she said the majority of the abuse reports don’t meet the statutory requirements for a county response.

“We cannot intervene or interfere with families unless statutory thresholds are met,” she said.

Sleeping on a sled

Counties fielded reports of possible child abuse or neglect an average of seven times an hour last year in Minnesota, one of the highest rates in the nation. Child protection agencies must determine if those reports meet the legal threshold of abuse. If so, the law requires the agencies to intervene by investigating whether abuse occurred or assessing the child’s safety and risk for maltreatment.

County child protection agencies closed 71 percent of abuse reports without investigation last year. Nationwide, the average number of screened-out calls was 38 percent in 2012.

“It adds up to 22,000 abuse calls a year that in an average state would be screened in,” said Rich Gehrman, the executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, a watchdog group for child welfare.

Nicollet County officials would not talk about the Hauer case, and the family declined to comment through their attorney, Tom Hagen. A public record provided by Gehrman to the Star Tribune shows that the county became aware of possible neglect of the boy in 2007.

“The report was screened by a child protection worker, but it was determined no neglect occurred, so Social Services decided an assessment was not necessary,” according to the record.

Then in October 2011, a ­passerby saw the boy walking by himself along Hwy. 169 and called law enforcement, according to court records. The boy told Nicollet County Chief Deputy Karl Jensen that he was hungry and walking to get a hamburger at a gas station, which Jensen said was about 7 miles from his home. The boy could not identify his parents, so the deputy took the boy to get food.

Jensen said in an interview that he tracked down the boy’s address and took him home. His mother, Jensen said, told the deputy that the boy was being punished and was supposed to be moving wood outside, but walked away when she went to check on their other children.

Jensen said the boy did not appear malnourished at the time, and he did not file a report with child protection.

Investigators later learned that around the time Jensen found the boy, the Hauers began sleeping outside of his room to try to stop him from stealing food, according to court records. They moved the boy to the basement, where an alarm on his door would go off if he left. The boy slept in a plastic container and then a sled because he was wetting the bed. In case he had to relieve himself at night, he was given a bucket, which he had to clean and empty each morning.

In October 2012, Mona Hauer brought the boy to the hospital after finding blood on his shirt. She told doctors that the boy had been regurgitating his food since December 2011. He stayed in the hospital for about a month as doctors worked to bring him up to a normal weight and treated him for brain atrophy and delayed bone growth from malnutrition. The boy told his doctors that he been eating his regurgitated food because he did not know when he would eat again.

After an investigation, Nicollet County moved to terminate the Hauers’ parental rights over the 8-year-old and their other three children. A judge granted the termination for the boy and placed him in foster care, and allowed the Hauers to retain custody of the other children while giving the county protective supervision. In October 2013, the Hauers each pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect.

A judge in February 2014 found that the Hauers were complying with the requirements of the protective supervision.

Gehrman of Safe Passage said the case is an example of the system missing a maltreated child.

Abuse screened out

In 2012, the Minnesota legislative auditor also found problems with the screening system, including wide variations in what reports that counties considered worthy of a response.

The auditor presented 10 sample scenarios to county child protection officials. Among them: A father threatens his son and shoots the family dog in front of him. A father chokes and punches a mother as the kids play video games. A mother drinks too much while caring for her child.

About half of Minnesota counties said they would decline to respond to those cases.

DHS sent out an advisory to counties in early March on what should be done in those cases. Counties should assess or investigate reports of a dog-killing father and a drunken mother. But DHS advised against investigating the case of the mother-abusing father, because no child was maltreated.

A Hennepin County task force in 2011 found that the person who makes the report also influences the decision to investigate. ­People who are not required by law to report abuse or neglect but do so anyway rarely get their complaints investigated, the task force found.

“They could have all of these things that are really concerning,” said Denise Graves, the former head of the task force. “But if they don’t really have explicit details, it won’t get screened in.”

Voluntary assistance

After screening out a report, counties can refer families to voluntary Parent Support Outreach Programs, which began in 38 Minnesota counties in 2005 and have since spread statewide. About 50 percent of families referred to the programs choose to participate, according to DHS.

Joan Najbar, who works with a Twin Cities-based PSOP, worries that counties too often turn to these programs, which she said can be an inappropriate response to children in danger.

“Most Minnesotans assume we have systems in place to help families and keep kids safe,” Najbar said. “We don’t.”

Najbar said Isanti County asked her in February to work with a family that it declined to investigate. Family members reported that the caregiver was drinking daily, kept firearms in his home, and became psychotic and heard voices telling him to kill people when he got drunk, Najbar said.

Najbar said she refused to take the case and asked the county to reconsider its decision to screen out the case. She doesn’t know what has happened to the family since then.

 

Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626

Counterpoint: Counties are committed to safety of kids

  • Article by: TONI CARTER
  • Updated: April 25, 2014 – 5:21 PM

It’s misleading to compare Minnesota screening practices to other states.

 

County commissioners and human services staff know the critical role counties play in ensuring the safety of children. All children have the right to be safe and all families have the right to assistance in times of difficulty and need. Counties strive to perform this role to the best of our abilities, which is why the Association of Minnesota Counties supported the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s February 2012 evaluation of child protection screening practices across Minnesota.

Counties and the state work together to ensure the best practices are in place. The OLA report on child protection screening concluded the following:

• Child protection agencies adequately administer intake of child maltreatment referrals;

• Child protection agencies’ screening methods are conducive to making objective decisions that are consistent with state law, and;

• Variation in agency screening decisions reflect many factors, including interpretation of state law, agency perceptions of risk and the information agencies consider during screening.

A central theme in the April 20 article “7 of 10 abuse calls not checked” was that Minnesota counties appear to “screen out” more reported cases of child abuse than other states, and that the percentage of cases that are closed without investigation varies between Minnesota counties. But it’s important to look beyond the data points to the data collection to understand these differences.

Increases in the statewide “screen out” rate from 2000-2010 may reflect changes in data recording practices rather than changes in agencies’ screening decisions. In 1999 a new data reporting system was implemented. As counties became more adept at using the new system the amount of data reporting increased. However, the actual number of reports “screened out” did not.

Despite the resulting higher “screen out” rate, Minnesota did the same number of assessments per year from 1996-2010, with a low of 16,384 in 2001 and a high of 19,846 in 2006, even though our child population is decreasing. While serving the same number of families, counties now document information received in a more consistent manner.

We believe it’s misleading to compare Minnesota screening practices to other states because of the variation in state laws, data collection systems and data retention practices.

Beyond the data, our most important job is to provide support to children and families. Though a report may be “screened out” that doesn’t mean no action was taken to assist a family. While a report may not meet the statutory threshold for child protection, counties offer other services to assist families. Minnesota has a statewide Parent Support Outreach Program (PSOP), as well as mental health services, chemical dependency services, and community resources that assist parents in providing a safe home environment. The OLA report shows that in a survey, 65 percent of agencies report offering other services in “screened out” cases “sometimes” and 29 percent offer other services “often/always.”

Counties dedicate significant funding and staffing into the area of child protection because of the high priority we place on the safety of children. We are committed to improving child protection processes, working as required within the bounds of existing state statutes. Counties have worked to implement the OLA report recommendations by:

• Participating in a Department of Human Services (DHS) work group of counties, tribes and stakeholders to review state screening guidelines and make appropriate adaptations;

• Increasing training in intake and screening for county agencies, and;

• Working with DHS in clarifying data retention policies and rules surrounding “screened out” reports, accepting reports from anonymous reporters and what type of ancillary information can be used in the screening process.

These are important steps forward and counties are committed to the most effective use of the resources available, beyond merely complying with statute or implementing the OLA recommendations, to achieve the important goal of safety and well-being for all of Minnesota’s children.

 

Toni Carter is a Ramsey County commissioner and 2014 president of the Association of Minnesota Counties.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. As a former GAL- it was a joy to read Minneapolis Tribune counterpoint by Mike Tikkanen May 3,2014. I have not had a case for a couple of years- My guilt surfaced and aroused my passion to get involved again to work toward solution for children at risk. Let me know connection points to “Kids at Risk Action”- I have a group of people who may want to take some action in the New Hope, MN area.

  2. Thank you for your response to the child protection crisis in this state. The most vulnerable in our society, our children, are not being represented by qualified professionals such as social workers and legal counselors in our court system. The public needs to know how poorly funded the judicial districts are to expect volunteers to do this work.

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