16 years ago in Minnesota, there was a disturbance in the force for childcare that made life dangerous for at-risk children and much more expensive to the State.
Tim Pawlenty, our governor at the time, argued that subsidized daycare was unnecessary (like bus service and bridge maintenance—his words) and he diverted all the money allocated to subsidized daycare for poor families and children into a “general fund.”
The waiting list for low-cost daycare climbed from 34 to over 7,000 families. People quit applying.
My state was saving money at the expense of 1- and 2-year-olds. Drunk uncles and boyfriends became daycare providers overnight, and terrible things happen to children when that occurs…
The governor then changed the name of Children and Family Services to something colder and less meaningful (Department of Human Services).
It was and is a false argument that money is saved when minimizing services to children.
These changes and other child-unfriendly statements and policies, diminished funding for child protection services and allowed 4-year-old Eric Dean to be slowly tortured to death by his mother a few years later.
Eric lived in a county that saved money on child protection by screening out 90% of all child abuse reports. At that time, the State was also saving more money by forbidding social workers (by law) to review a family’s prior history of child abuse when reviewing a new case.
From 3 to 4 years of age, this poor child was reported abused by mandated reporters 15 times (with multiple reports of facial and head bites and scars, and a broken arm). Despite these 15 reports, Eric was never seen by child protection workers.
A few years later, six-year-old foster child Kendrea Johnson committed suicide by hanging herself from her bunk bed. She left a suicide note about hating herself and being hated.
Kendrea’s social worker was unaware that the child was seeing a therapist at the time (even though this child had openly discussed suicide and homicide).
After Eric Dean’s death, Governor Mark Dayton) openly called Minnesota child protection a “colossal failure” and demanded a task force be formed to investigate the flaws in our state’s child protection system.
The task force found at-risk children were being left in toxic homes to face more trauma, terror, and torture, as Minnesota legislators were saving money because fewer social workers meant smaller state expenditures.
People thinking that eliminating affordable daycare or taking other child-unfriendly shortcuts actually save money or a community’s well-being are not thinking clearly.
A single 4-year-old child from this CASA guardian ad litem’s caseload cost the state about 3 million dollars prior to aging out of foster care. This number is disregarding the pain and cost to the teacher he beat up, the student he stabbed, and the terrible things he did to so many of the 29 foster families he lived with).
This boy contracted AIDS before he was 15 years old. He will always be a state ward, and his healthcare will always be expensive.
He has harmed other people since leaving child protection services and he may very well live a long and dysfunctional life.
All this pain, suffering, and cost was a direct result of a state agency granting his pedophile father custody of the boy while the father was in prison for being a pedophile.
There was a court order in the adjacent state where he was incarcerated forbidding the father from being around young boys. I met and spoke with the man and still can’t believe that anyone who knew anything about the man could have given him custody of this fragile 4-year-old boy.
My state was saving money that would be paid to the foster family with whom he was a beautiful boy living a perfectly happy life when he was 4.
There is no defense for what the state has done to that child—now a man with serious mental health issues and terrible behaviors (and a forever cost to the State).
Had the state continued to pay the $500/month to the foster family (the approximate cost at the time), the arrangement most likely would have ended within year, because a new federal mandate (back in 1996) required that a child not languish in foster care, and the boy would have been adopted. The family that had fostered him loved him and, without this federal mandate, most likely would have adopted him had they been given the chance.
Subtract $6,000 (annual cost of foster care at the time) from 3 million dollars and that’s what my state has paid because of the terrible policy it followed in this child’s life.
MN has paid for AIDS treatments and related treatments for decades, suicide care, even very expensive airplane travel to find suicide beds when the city hospitals were overwhelmed (which is not uncommon)—and a forever cost of supporting a very expensive State Ward.
On top of all the extraordinary financial costs—and all the unmeasurable costs of his suffering, violence, and injury to others—is the sadness of watching this boy stuck in a community willing to provide him food and shelter but unable to give him quite enough help to heal and lead a normal life.
To drive home the fiscal cost argument a little harder, consider the exponential growth of generational child abuse since I began working as a CASA guardian ad litem in 1996.
Generation after generation of abused children having and raising the next generation of abused children. This will continue until the abuse is interrupted and their families find healing and learn coping skills to lead productive lives.
The suffering to the next generation of at-risk children and the financial cost to our community is off the charts.
Money invested in the Adverse Childhood Experiences model (ACEs) (short video) and other worthy early-childhood programs will deliver a return on investment exponentially greater than our huge investment in the punishment of crime and incarceration today.
We will all be better off when that happens.
“What we do to our children, they will do to society” (Pliny the Elder 2000 years ago)
KARA has been reporting and speaking on data and
critical issues impacting abused and neglected children for many years.
This article submitted by long time CASA guardian ad Litem Mike Tikkanen
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*My very first case was a family of eight abused children and I had one other of seven abused children (terribly abused) and the caseloads are larger today than they were 20 years ago.
** Overwhelmed courts, Prozac instead of therapy, detention and jail instead of ACEs healing and help…