Minnesota’s Child Protection Problem (“the deeper you get into it, the worse it is” Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat)

July 8, 2015 in CASA, Child Death, Crime and Courts, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

parasailingThank you Hennepin County Board for unanimously approving the Governor’s Task Force recommendations for improving Child Protection Services in MN.

Thank you  Governor Dayton for your “Colossal Failure” statement about the death of Eric Dean (it launched the important changes we see today), kudos to the Governor’s Task Force for the hard work you have done in bringing more transparency, accountability, and sanity to a system that has been responsible for its own share of child abuse.

Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune deserve huge credit for a full year of prying open a closed system to get to the sad facts that lead to the repeated abuse and tragic deaths of so many poor and defenseless children in (or should have been in) County Child Protection.

KARA’s hour long video interview of Brandon Stahl gives a pretty good picture of just how insular and uncooperative the system can be to prying eyes (and how much worse it was for Eric Dean than his newspaper articles indicated).

Blaming  juvenile justice employees & social workers, educators, health workers, adoptive & foster parents or other worker bees connected to child protection is counter productive and wrong.  

Living with and working with abused children with serious behavior issues that are often unpredictable and violent requires more help and training than this community is providing.  Psychotropic medications have become a go to answer for a very high percentage of very young children in Child Protection.  A Hennepin County Judge shared a very extensive list of children that passed through her courtroom that were required to take these drugs over a year’s time – some as young as 6.

Educators & social workers struggle to work with children badly damaged by child abuse (many who are taking these mind altering drugs*).

Foster and adoptive families face huge problems keep troubled children safe* and hopeful.  The level of skill and patience people trying to help at risk children is extremely high and without access to outside resources can be beyond the average person’s understanding or ability to manage (leaving it to law enforcement when other services are not available).

In the paraphrased words of MN County Sheriffs Rick Stanek, Tim Leslie, and Matt Bostrom, we have turned their Sheriff’s Departments into a provider of “*mental health services”.   I have also heard this expression from other law enforcement management.

Former MN Chief Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz has commented that “The difference between that poor child and a felon, is about 8 years” & that “90% of the youth in juvenile justice have passed through Child Protection Services”.


The medical community has weighed in with more than sufficient evidence that ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) largely determine a child’s path in life and their impact on the community.  When DR Bruce Perry speaks, he tells his audience that by the end of this generation, 25% of Americans will be special needs people unless we address these issues effectively*.

Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald and their 2003 Federal Reserve study of early childhood education have made a conservative and powerful case for how great the return on investment is when dollars are used to help children achieve coping skills and grade level performance.

My own approach to the financial piece of this argument is colored by the extreme costs to the County I have witnessed as a Hennepin County guardian ad-Litem.    One boy in my case load cost the County about 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of foster care.  This would not include compensation dollars for the people he has stabbed, teacher he beat up or the awful things he did to foster and adoptive families that tried to save him.

I have high hopes for a greatly improved Child Protection system in Minnesota.  But policy makers must not take their eye off the ball.  A continued peeling of this wicked problem can eventually lead to rapid and long term improvement in an area that has for too long been misunderstood.

With the recent focus by the Governor, by the Media, by the Task Force and the Casey Foundation, our community might just began to meet the needs of those children who need their community the most.

Without us, there is almost no hope for a child born into a toxic often violent home whose own parents, most likely suffered from generational child abuse.  If you want to be part of the solution, consider becoming a volunteer County guardian ad-Litem.  Learn more here.

* Executive Director of the Washburn Center for Children’s Mental Health Steve Lepinski points out that there are 3 children’s hospitals in Minnesota and no children’s mental health hospitals.  The use of psychotropic medications for children in Child Protection takes the place of therapy and the healing practices needed to make children whole.

It is this guardian ad-Litem’s view that the ACE’s mental health / healing approach to child well-being is at the center of all child protection issues and if used widely and well in dealing with at risk youth, will go a long way in saving  our children, schools, and communities  from the sadness and chaos we all live with today.

Support early childhood programs that help children achieve the coping skills they need to live a productive life.

Invite KARA to speak at your next function (info@invisiblechildren.org) – Support Kids At Risk Action