You’re Six and On Your Own in the Court System (not having an advocate leaves abused children even more vulnerable)

The fear and aloneness in the eyes of the child sitting next to me in court as the judge decides where she will live after being taken away from the only home she has ever known is palpable.

Here, in a roomful of adults she has never seen before about to determine what will become of her family, where she will live and what school she will go to are too monstrous for words.

How would you as a six year old respond? Remember, coping skills for these events don’t exist is six year olds.

It’s always been terror and trauma for these kids. Torture, trauma and abuse in the home. Terror and trauma of the unknown as the institution takes over every aspect of her life.

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Wow & Thank You For Supporting CASA Minnesota

CASA Minnesota’s Brewing Hope event turned out to be a smash hit and a great time was held by all.

Thank you to everyone that came and shared in the fun and especially those of you Donated or went home with silent and live auction booty.

Have fun on the African vacation, at Stouts Island Lodge, and the University Club next year (and the many other great dining, service, and happy event items donated for the event).

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Women’s Rights & Children’s Rights (and where are we today?)

100 years ago, women were property (legally) and a husband could do just about anything to his wife. Murder was still murder, but anything else was treated by law enforcement much like animal abuse was in the day (not a big deal for the courts to be concerned with).

20 years ago I became a volunteer *CASA guardian ad Litem (voice for the child) in County child protection and saw first hand what it’s like for an American citizen to have no voice in the home, no voice in the courts and no voice in the media.

Over 25 years ago the rest of the world (194 nations) decided that children have basic human rights and begin signing the International Rights of the Child Treaty. Under this document, children are to have the rights to education, safety and well being including not to be made soldiers and not to be enslaved).

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Why CASA Guardian ad-Litem?

After years of watching and working as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem in child protection two things have become clear to me;

1) Abused and neglected children really do need a CASA guardian ad-litem advocate &

2) The system really needs insiders to speak loudly and repeatedly about the real world of America’s child protection system. Workers within the system (besides volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litems) find it politically unwise to say things that reflect badly on the system (at the risk of losing their jobs). Volunteers have

As much as I respect the very hard work done by dedicated case workers (I mean every word of that – there is no harder work), case loads are too high, resources are too slim and few will risk their jobs to speak out about individual or system failures.

If I could change one thing in child protection today it would be the transparency, tracking and accountability that would come from the speaking out by those who witness these travesties every day.

The reason our communities don’t have crisis nurseries, quality daycare and other child friendly programs that would promote learning and coping skills and launch at risk youth into productive lives is that we don’t talk about it. When you don’t talk about it, it does not exist.

“it” being the suicide by seven year old’s on Prozac, sexual abuse and repeated horrific violence against six year old’s that we see when they finally make it into Child Protection.

The only thing the public knows about the at risk children we see every day are the kids that die when the media brings it to public attention (generally showing a glaring system failure but solving nothing).

Until Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune made a focus on just how bad life was for poor four year old Eric Dean, media coverage about child abuse was almost non existent. It is only because of this reporters consistent and intrepid work that Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language formed a task force that brought public attention to absurd policies and gross negligence that desperately needed changing, that change happened.

My point is that until a thing is spoken of it does not exist and nothing is going to change. The public has a short memory and the media won’t be here for long.

If all the public knows is that eight very young children have been murdered by their parents and caregivers since Eric Dean’s death after 15 largely ignored reports of child abuse – it is a much smaller problem than the horrific stories that accompany a very large percentage of the tens of thousands of children reported to child protection in MN each year (and the 6 million children reported nationally each year).

Maybe I’m an unreasonable optimist – but if more people were aware of the cyclical nature of child abuse, the prevalence and dangers* of medicating abused children with powerful anti-psychotic drugs (instead of adequate life changing therapies), how common life threatening behaviors are to damaged children and just how costly, impactful and long lasting abuse is for the thousands of children passing through Child Protection every year – we would support programs that would save those children from the terrors they have lived with and will continue to live with (and pass onto their children and the next generation).

All adults are the protectors of all children (thank you Don Shelby)

*about one third of children in child protection systems are proscribed these drugs

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Why Are So Many Six Year Olds On Prozac?

Hennepin County Judge Heidi Schellhas shared her records of very young children taking psychotropic medications that had passed through her courtroom with me in 2005 (for my book, Invisible Children.

It was astounding to see how many six and seven year old children in Hennepin County’s Child Protection system take Prozac and other psychotropic medications. Since the book, I have followed reporting about the medicating of the very young from states and counties around the nation.

Most states that have reported on this topic run between 1/4 and 1/3 of their child protection children on psychotropics and teens in foster homes appear to use these drugs at a higher level. It appears that the use of psychotropic medications by non-foster children occur at less than 20% of the rate as the use of these drugs by foster kids.

Most states don’t track the data and those that do don’t make it easy to find.

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What’s The Difference? (and why we should care)

Coming from years as a CASA guardian ad-Litem, child friendly perspective, I see similarities and a correlation between what in business would be labelled “Worst Practices” or, what is happening to the citizens of Ferguson at the hands of an aggressive judicial/policing approach to justice for the citizens of Missouri, and the way America treats children and juveniles.
25% of American juveniles are tried as adults (often 10 and 12 years old), recidivism rates are now at 70% in our prisons -Black men born in 2001 have a 33% chance of incarceration. Almost half of America’s incarcerated youth serve their terms in privatized prisons. Many laboring for as little as one dollar a day.

Almost 20,000 children have been killed by gunfire since 2010,

Thousands of children in child protection systems are medicated by psychotropic pharmaceuticals like Prozac, Ritalin, and Zoloft instead of being treated through mental health programs that could help them gain the coping skills necessary for leading productive lives.

Six million children are reported abused in this nation each year. About ten percent of them receive services in an overwhelmed child protection system. In most states, only the very worst child abuse cases receive any attention.

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What’s a Well Trained Social Worker Worth?

It hurts me to know that I live in a state that pays the least of almost all states in training social workers and continues to underfund the federally mandated guardian ad litem program so severely that over six hundred children do not have a Court Appointed Special Advocate even today. A Court Appointed GAL is the only voice abused children have in court once they have been removed from their homes.

The list of underfunded programs for the most vulnerable citizens in our community is long and been growing (we have the money*).

Without the Star Tribune’s continued reporting on child abuse issues, trauma and abuse would still be non-issues as they were when 3-year-old Dennis Jergens was tortured to death in White Bear Lake in the 1960’s. His mother Lois Jergens went on to adopt four other children by moving out of the state.

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Washoe County Nevada CASA Recognition Dinner Weds Sept 19th Keynote Speaker Mike Tikkanen

The Court Appointed Special Advocate Association (CASA), a national organization that recruits, trains and supports volunteers to represent abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings, is honoring Washoe County volunteers at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at the 2012 Speaking From The Heart recognition dinner.
The event, held at Silver Legacy Resort Casino, recognizes the hours volunteers devote to children in need in the legal and social services system. The nonprofit says volunteers often remain the one constant in kids lives until placed in a safe, permanent home.

There will be a no-host cocktails and a silent auction. Dinner begins at 7:15 p.m. with keynote speaker Mike Tikkanen to follow. Cost: $80 per person. Details: Washoe County CASA Foundation, 775-233-5849.

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Want To Know More About the CASA guardian ad-Litem Program?

Nearly 9000 children are reported abused or neglected every day in this country – over 3000 a year in Minnesota alone. You might not be in a position to take one of these children into your home. But you CAN be their voice. As a Volunteer Guardian ad Litem (a court appointed special advocate), you have the power to stand up for an abused or neglected child. You can restore their voice – and their hope. Giving just 5-10 hours a month of your time can make all the difference in the outcome of our children. Attend one of our information sessions, get free training and become a volunteer Guardian ad Litem!
Learn about being a CASA guardian ad-Litem; www.casamn.org

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Violence Against Children & Policing

This morning’s Safe Passage For Children about how police have put battered children back in the home because they like to keep families together reminds me of a man who kicked a 7 year old girl so hard she went into convulsions and went into the hospital Emergency Room with her injury. The police in that case sought safety for her and her siblings and involved Child Protection right away.
That girl had been sexually abused for four years (from 4 to 7), my first visit to her younger year sister was at the suicide ward of the hospital & the 2 other children had problems so severe that they could not be together in foster care because of the things that happened when they were together.

The man who did these things to the children remained in the home for many years, and was never charged or made to answer for any of his crimes. More than ten years later he was still sexually abusing children in the same home and he had never been mentioned in the justice system.

Children have no rights in the homes they live in, no access to safety other than our community efforts to keep children safe and no way to influence policy makers to improve the existing system. The Safe Passage Article above includes a snapshot of how the rest of the industrialized world keeps children safe and is well worth reading.

All Adults Are The Protectors of All Children

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Unintended Consequences (KARA & abused children thank you Brandon Stahl & Star Tribune)

From today’s Brandon Stahl article,

“Janine Moore, the area director of the county’s children and family services department, said earlier this month that child protection has a backlog of nearly 300 unreviewed reports, up from 111 in February. Moore said staff examine all cases to determine which ones need immediate response.

Earlier this year, Moore told the committee there were 15 children on a shelter waiting list, meaning they needed to be taken into protective custody but child protection workers had nowhere to put them. At one point, the committee learned, there were 30 such cases, with a wait of up to two weeks before a safe home opened up for a child.

“Quite frankly,” Moore told the committee, “we’ve been struggling with this for over a year now.”

Hennepin County CASA guardian ad litem Calvin McIntyre says that in this overwhelmed child protection system (highest caseload in more than six years), “I’ve had kids get worse”.

“About two dozen children in the past year who had nowhere else to go were admitted to the pediatric ward of Hennepin County Medical Center, said the ward’s director, Dr. Frances Prekker. Some, said Prekker, had to be confined to the ward because they might run away. Some of the children stayed in the ward for a month, Prekker said.”“It’s quite stressful [for the children]. The hospital is a really boring place to live,” Prekker said. “They feel quite isolated.”

“Brooklyn Park Police Chief Craig Enevoldsen said his officers have brought young children they suspected were abused to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.”

These sad truths would be a little more understandable if this community hadn’t allocated a billion dollars for a stadium, a billion + dollars for transportation & almost a billion dollars to rebuild a bridge that fell in the river because we were too cheap to make the 5 million dollars in repairs repeatedly requested by County and Federal engineers.

The unintended consequences of saving the 5 million dollars in bridge maintenance were 14 deaths, 144 seriously injured people, and pain and disruption for thousands of metro residents

Without community support, children don’t learn to cope and often fail in school and public life (state wards forever).

The unintended consequences of saving the effort and money it will take to build a more effective child protection system include failing schools, high teacher turnover, dangerous city streets and filled prisons along with a growing public concern that our institutions are creating exactly what they were designed to stop.

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Twin Cities Marathon & CASA MN (a great combination)

We are proud to announce that, for the second year in a row, CASA Minnesota is a participating charity in the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon on October 6, 2013. We are reaching out to runners and supporters to fundraise for Team CASA Minnesota.
CASA Minnesota is a local nonprofit whose mission is to support and promote volunteer advocates to ensure that every abused and neglected child in Minnesota has a safe, stable and permanent family. Our advocates are everyday citizens who become extraordinary volunteers.

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Tuesday, June 17 6pm KARA Brooklyn Park Think Again Presentation, Pizza, and Social

Early Childhood Education Boosts Academic Achievement and Career Success Tuesday, June 17               6 p.m. Pizza and Social           6:30 p.m. Program Brooklyn Park Council Chambers, 5200 85th Avenue N Please RSVP and Share on Facebook or to Carol Woehrer, carolwoehrer@usfamily.net A question and answer session will follow the presentations. Sponsored by the Maple Grove, Osseo, Brooklyn…

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Tracking America’s Most At Risk Children (through the media, the states & CASA)

Follow these pages to keep up with the most current stories about the people policies & programs working with and reporting on abused and neglected children;

Connect to the most recent media stories
Connect to CASAs (around the nation)

Connect to the states (stories of at risk children in your state)

Children Are Not Burgers (send this to your friends)

4 minute Video on being an abused child in America
Richard Ross photographs juvenile in justice (remarkable)

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The Ghost of Christmas Past (the value of healthy children)

If we knew the costs abused children carry with them through a lifetime and the cost of multiple generations of abused children there would be

They proved that by investing in early childhood programs children became much more likely to succeed in school and lead a productive life. This research was the most practical approach to the economics of childhood development this nation has ever seen.

KARA believes that this federal reserve study has not had the impact it should have had because;

We don’t respond to how much money is saved as powerfully as we do to how much things cost,
Almost no one knows the short or long term costs abused children carry with them through a lifetime or,
The cost of multiple generations of abused children

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The Beatings Will Continue Until the Morale Improves (it’s all your fault)

Historically, we blame educators for failing schools and social workers for murdered children within the child protection system.

This behavior is wrong and counterproductive. It’s like blaming a police officer for the person in the squad car.

If you know police officers, social workers and teachers you know how hard their work is and how dedicated they are to what they do.

The blame for the poor results we have been getting in our schools, child protection and criminal justice system lies with us as voters and policy makers.

Until we understand the depth and scope of the problem and give the people working with the children and youth in our communities the support they need, our problems will continue to grow.

On the bright side, Minnesota has the Washburn Center for Children which is almost 100% successful in treating abused and neglected children. We know how to break the cycle of generational child abuse.

All that is left to do is scale the trauma informed practices to a level that meets the need. The economic reasons for doing this are compelling and it is the right thing to do.

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Thank You Ruben Rosario (for today’s powerful Pioneer Press article supporting our Invisible Children Petition)

“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.

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Thank You Ruben Rosario

In reviewing Minnesota’s past child abuse tragedies to connect the dots between the sadness of four year old Dennis Jurgens murder by his adopted mother of 1965 (Lois Jurgens went on to adopt five other children after that murder) and the Eric Dean murder recently, I discovered the work done by St Paul Pioneer Press reporter Ruben Rosario on the beating death of three year old Desi Irving by her mother in 1997.

Ruben Rosario’s investigation turned up the exact same issues we are facing today and very candid remarks (1998) by then former head of Hennepin County’s Department of Children, Family and Adult Services.

Ruben and David Sanders draw attention to the lack of public transparency, closing cases without investigation, state laws that prohibit discussion of even the most egregious cases of child abuse, deliberately keeping child death cases “off the books” (30 cases in FL recently), and the impossible fact that government data often does not include deaths involving children whose families never came in contact with child protective services.
Ruben’s drew attention to Brown University research demonstrating that 15% of all murders during a 32 year period of investigation were the killing of one or more children by a parent, step-parent, caretaker or other parental figure.

One third of the victims were under one year old, and two-thirds were six or younger.

The need for a database clearing house, keeping data longer and making it more transparent and accessible are necessary if the public is to have any basis for understanding the depth and scope of child abuse in America today.

From someone who has witnessed child abuse tragedies as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem again and again over many years, it is obvious that our community’s big talk about how we value children is just that – talk and nothing more.

Thank you Ruben for your in depth reporting on child abuse & thank you Governor Dayton for remarking candidly on the “Colossal Failure” of child protective services that cost Eric Dean his tortured and painful four year-old life.

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Thank God For Lawyers, Lawsuits & the Star Tribune

Today’s Star Tribune reporting on the civil rights lawsuit for abused children (by reporter Chris Serres) validates my belief that child rape and other crimes against children are the most ignored and cruelest reality in our community.  We hate the conversation so we avoid it and children suffer continued awful traumas because of us. I…

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Support MN CASA Guardian ad-Litem Program (with a year end gift)

support CASA MN with a year end gift here;

“To give a child a volunteer advocate is to give them a voice. To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world.

I believe that with all my heart.”

Pamela Butler, Former Foster Child

At CASA Minnesota we believe that every child deserves a voice. CASA volunteers provide the voice for children who are experiencing times of great vulnerability due to abuse and neglect. Support from people like you means that we can assist in recruiting committed advocates to be that voice for children involved in juvenile court proceedings. Your tax-deductible investment in our nonprofit program allows us to provide resources to enhance recruitment, training, retention and support for more than 470 CASA Minnesota volunteers every year – caring, knowledgeable people who make sure the best interests of these children are served.

Thanks to support from our community, our volunteers are the dedicated champions that children need while facing the unknown. Consider Janell. She was just over four years old when she entered the court system. Sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, parental rights were eventually terminated when reunification was not an option. Her volunteer advocate saw a solution. He was vocal in supporting adoption by her foster mother with whom Janell had developed a strong attachment. Now 11 years old, Janell plays acoustic guitar, writes songs, does yoga with her adoptive mom, plays basketball and soccer, and likes math and reading. She is able to see her siblings on a regular basis as well. Without a volunteer advocate taking part in this process, this may not have been a successful outcome for this child.

Our mission at CASA Minnesota is to assist in recruiting, training and supporting the important volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children like Janell. Will you please consider a year-end gift to help us continue our important work? Your donation will make it possible for us to give a voice of hope to children and support for those who serve them. You can change the life of a child in need. You can give by going to https://givemn.org/organization/Casa-Minnesota .

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Stone Arch Foundation Audio Presentation – 30 minutes + questions (recorded by iDream.tv)

Working with abused and neglected children as a volunteer county guardian ad-litem, Mike speaks directly about the financial and physical disaster happening daily to children, schools, and neighborhoods because of poor public policy and the dysfunction of well- meaning people and institutions.

Visit www.InvisibleChildren.org and www.CasaMN.org

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State of MN Falls Behind In Abuse Inquiries

State Falls Behind In Abuse Inquiries (today’s Star Trib headlines)

The sentence seems harmless unless you are a five year old child tied to a bed, left alone for days without food, beaten and sodomized, prostituted as a 7 year old, or left alone in a crib for days without food or contact.

These were my first experience with child abuse as a volunteer Hennepin County guardian ad-Litem.

The backlog of 724 cases (double what it was 18 months ago) means that children will wait for their sexual abuse, beatings, and neglect to be investigated.

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