Minnesotan’s talk big about how we value children and how exceptional we are as a people, a nation, a culture. Most of us claim to be spiritual people valuing life and religious teachings that protect our community and its children.
If there is anything genuine or exceptional about how we actually treat children it would be how poorly we pay and train service providers to our children, the lack of transparency, accountability, and humanity in an overwhelmed child protection system that the majority of people involved in find harsh and disappointing at many levels (and Governor Mark Dayton called a “colossal failure” in the death of 4 year old Eric Dean).
I became a volunteer guardian ad-Litem because of a horrible experience a business associate had adopting children. Her family was not aware of the mental health issues and dangerous behaviors her newly adopted children (from County Child Protection) were bringing into their new home.
She and her husband were not prepared for the years of trauma, turmoil, and pain that unfolded. Twenty years later, the story has softened but remains tortured. Their experience is all about mental health and behavior problems (to the point of stark fear and constant vigilance).
For the past 7 months, Brandon Stahl and the Star tribune have reported story after story of how sad and unfair (including a 6 year old’s dying by hanging suicide & 4 year old murdered by a foster parent) life is for children in Child Protective Services & the 100 reforms urged for MN Child Protection by the Task Force.
Today’s article hits a painful note with me as many of my CASA guardian ad-Litem caseload children had way too many foster homes. The record was 29 for one boy (before aging out of foster care). Brandon Stahl points out that MN is one of the worst in the nation for re-entering foster care (25% of our foster kids re-enter, the national standard requires less than 10% to be “re-homed”).
Similarly, one of my cases had 49 police calls to a home where the 7 year old was prostituted. When I asked the juvenile justice officer from the department why, she remarked that the system was simply overwhelmed and could only remove children when their lives were endangered (on the 49th call the 7 year old tried to kill her 4 year old sister by jumping on her neck in front of a police officer).
In 2013, Minnesota failed to meet 7 of 15 federal standards for child placement.
That’s how we value children in Minnesota. Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Arizona rank much worse, but it is nothing to brag about.
Under-funding early learning programs, subsidized daycare, crisis nurseries, and public health for at risk children insures full prisons, failing schools, and a lifetime of sadness and big pool of non-productive citizens that continue to cost our community until they leave the state or die. One of my guardian ad-Litem boys has cost this state at least 3 million dollars because he fell through the cracks and has forever carried with him the results of being tortured for four years by a caregiver.
If we really valued children, families would have access to health and mental health services and family friendly programs making life just a little easier for people raising young families. If we were any good at math or economics, we would recognize the value of programs that bring coping skills and healthy lifestyles within reach of the children that need them.
Bravo Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune for your continued research and reporting on the state of child protection in Minnesota. This kind of intrepid reporting needs to happen in every state.
Share this article (by Facebook/Twitter/Other social media/or snail mail) with a reporter or newspaper in your city and follow it up with a phone call to let that person know just how serious you are about valuing the children in your community. It’s the right thing to do and the kids will thank you for it.