Are Class Action Lawsuits The Future For Child Protection? (Just filed in Arizona)

Note, this article is not about blaming people doing the work – it’s about legislators that are unaware of the dire straits abused and neglected children are facing and their slow and inadequate reaction to the conditions existing in our most important institutions today.

Many states are failing their most vulnerable citizens in the most tortured and traumatizing ways. National Disgrace (Star Tribune) & Colossal Failure are the words being used across America describing child protection in state after state. Four and five year old children are dying by homicide and suicide.

Two days ago, a lawsuit was filed against the AZ Department of Child Safety alleging “severe shortage of mental and physical health services”, “failure to conduct timely investigations of child abuse reports”, and a widespread failure of the State to help troubled children maintain family relationships.

If lawmakers do not make and allocate funding for policies that keep children safe, this nation resorts to lawsuits that pay damages and fines for such failures. Sometimes, the court includes very expensive punitive awards to make it explicit that the state needs to function better for children. It’s an expensive way of creating policy and children have to suffer greatly before that happens.

From my perspective as a longtime volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, it is far less costly, and way more ethical and productive for legislators to fund programs and address problems than it is to obfuscate, ignore, and watch the slow torture of abused and neglected children evolve into class action lawsuits and the next generation of abused and neglected children becoming parents of another generation of abused and neglected children. We are costing this nation its quality of life by trading at risk children and young families for failed schools, unsafe streets, a giant prison system, and monstrous pharmaceutical industry (and million of children reported to child protection each year).

Every five years a new generation of abused and neglected children enter our schools and communities.

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Toddler Shoots Both Parents (becoming a commonplace event)

A three year old Albuquerque NM boy shot and wounded both his parents with his pregnant mothers loaded hand gun last Saturday. His two year old sister was uninjured. Below are recent articles concerning guns and American toddlers.

Three People Shot In One Week By Toddlers

More Americans Shot By Toddlers Than Terrorists

Two Year Old Shoots Florida Mother To Death (a state that fines doctors for telling mothers to lock up their guns).

100 Children Killed by Gunfire Since Newtown (June 2014)

America has about ten times the rate of gunfire death than the rest of the industrialized world.

Guns kill more infants & toddlers than police officers in the line of duty.

A gun in the home increases the risk of suicide by 3 to 5 times, homicide by 3 times, and accidental death by 400 percent.

Since 1963, three times as many American children and teens have been shot dead than soldiers killed abroad – in 2010, five times more children and teens were shot dead than soldiers killed in Iraq and Afgghanistan.

Gun violence kills more black youth (from one to nineteen years old) every year except for car accidents. Below are stunning graphs that demonstrate these facts (courtesy of ScienceBlogs.com (the pump handle)

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Dear State Representative Lohmer

Dear Representative Lohmer,

Responding to your note to me below (decrying the cost of early childhood programs being recommended by Governor Mark Dayton), I’ve been a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem for almost 20 years and watched what short changing MN children does to our schools, city streets, and state budget.

One of (I have 50 stories)my case load boys cost the county between 2 and 3 million dollars and that does not include the people he has stabbed, teacher he beat up, or hundreds of others he has caused great suffering to in his young life.

He’s in his early 20’s today and recently aged out of foster care (I met him in 1996 when he was 7) today, he has AIDS, is on the most expensive medicines in the nation, has always been a state ward, and I expect will always be a state ward.

To not support programs that could have helped him lead a normal life is fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

If I were to describe to you the costs some of the other fifty children I have worked with (as a volunteer) in child protection, you would make better decisions concerning early childhood programs.

We launch a new generation of abused and neglected children with or without coping skills every five years (by five a child is able to cope with his or her environment, go on to school and succeed or Not). It hurts me to meet people that don’t understand this. Quit thinking of a generation as 20 years. It is not. It is five years for the children we are talking about.

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Sad Stories; How America Values Its Children (a national disgrace)

“National Disgrace” is the headline in the Wednesday Star Tribune report on the Federal Government’s failure to enforce child protection laws, and the many children dying of abuse and neglect in plain view of child protection workers.

“Colossal Failure” were the words of MN Governor Mark Dayton when speaking about his state’s failure to provide child protection services to 4 year old Eric Dean after 15 ignored reports (by mandated reporters) of the bite marks and broken bones prior to his murder this year. The photos and the stories presented by journalist Brandon Stahl at the Star Tribune were horrific and caused the Governor to create a task force to stop the awful happenings in Child Protective Services.

Mark Dayton’s task force is recommending transparency and changing the awful laws and practices that currently make keeping children safe next to impossible.

Minnesota was a leader in child protection services twenty five years ago (as was California). Today, our state spends less on child protection than 46 other states and the results are in; Racial disparity, very troubled schools, and horrific child protection failures.

Don’t use my words to blame service providers. It’s not them it’s us.

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The State Of Child Protection in Texas (655 under-reported deaths of abused children)

With one of the nation’s largest child abuse agencies, 2.5 billion dollar budget, & 8000 employee, Texas struggles to keep up with the increase in child protection cases, not enough quality foster and adoption families, and cases that stay in the system far too long (federal lawsuit).

For a long time now, Texas has ranked last or near last among the states for prenatal care (50th), low birth weight babies, health care expenditure (48th), spending on mental health (49th) graduation rates (45th), SAT scores, child abuse deaths, uninsured children, births to teen moms, WIC benefits per person (50th), 4th highest in women living in poverty, and 6th highest in child poverty (2013 Texas Legislative Study Group/83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature).

Texas is also first in executions, 2nd in larceny, theft, and property crime rate, 4th in rate of incarceration, and personal bankruptcy filings, (March 2013).

Nearly half of the 655 under-reported child deaths occurred to children on CPS radar. That’s what happens with extraordinarily high caseloads, too few resources for existing cases, lack of transparency & reporting.

Each year, over 100,000 Texas children between the ages of 7 & 17 go missing, many of them while in child protective services.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 60% of children likely to be victims of sex trafficking have fun away from foster care or group homes.

The high turnover in child protection workers and broken foster care and daycare system are just the tip of the iceberg of at risk children in the state.

Child protection workers and children did not make the mess and they can do little to fix it. Lawmakers, voters, and concerned citizens need to look to other states and nations to find solutions.

26% of Texas population (1.7 million Texas children) live below the federal poverty level & Of the 804 Child fatalities reported in 2013, 156 were related to child abuse or neglect according to Child Protective Services.

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KARA Update & 2015 Children & Youth Issues Briefing Friday January 23rd

Friday was spent at the annual Children and Youth Issues Briefing conference in St Paul. I reconnected with board members from CASAMN, Greg Brolsma, Police Chief from Fairmont MN with great insights about how the issues of abuse and neglect impact the larger community, and Rich Gehrman from Safe Passage For Children MN.

My biggest take away from the many speakers today was this statement by Becky Roloff CEO of the YWCA in Minneapolis (paraphrased) because a child’s future ability to cope in school and in life is almost completely formed by five, I’ve changed my definition of a generation. It’s not 20 years, it’s five. Every five years, another generation of children able to cope or not cope in school, with peers, and in life enters our community.

Becky’s larger point being, either we throw ourselves into crisis nurseries, early childhood programs, and affordable quality daycare, or we will continue to create new generations of troubled five year olds headed for failure and lifetimes of special needs and dysfunctional lifestyles.

Emerging Policy Initiatives, Youth Perspectives, MN Children’s Cabinet, Governor’s address, and Legislative leaders delivered multiple perspectives about children’s issues. When the video of the event is posted I will put it up on KARA’s website.

2 other thoughts that will stick with me from this meeting are;

1) the short sighted and repeated reference to affordability with little reference to the extraordinary cost of not valuing children enough to insure basic health and skills,

&

2) Governor Dayton’s remarks about how infighting among service providers could damage his efforts to provide funding for badly needed programs (which certainly would not serve the children we were there to talk about).

The cost of children not able to achieve the coping skills needed to succeed in school, with peers, and in life, are exponentially higher than providing subsidized daycare, crisis nurseries, and early childhood programs.

Without help, the traumas of abuse and neglect last a lifetime and cost a fortune over that person’s lifetime. Art Rolnick’s work at the Federal Reserve proving a 17 dollar return on each dollar invested in early childhood programs for the average child pales in comparison to the dollar invested in the at risk child. A single child in my caseload cost the county (and County) in excess of two million dollars) that could have been a fraction of that cost if addressed adequately (and he is still a young man with a long, expensive, dysfunctional life in front of him).

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Child Protection – Research – Transparency & Safe Passage For Children (Rich Gehrman)

Anyone interested in the real politics and machinations of child protection policies and services in MN needs to know about Rich Gehrman/Safepassage For Children studies and recommendations. They set a gold standard for information and instruction that I am most happy to see on board at Governor Dayton’s Task Force On Child Protection.

Based on in depth research of child protection cases Safe Passage reported how well/not well MN children and families are being served with current policies. Most notable among their studies observations were;

* Caregiver compliance was often predicated more on attendance than changing bad behaviors

* A third of the children continued to be abused while under court supervision

* Access to child protection records is critical to understanding and changing public policy for abused and neglected children

* 60% of child abuse reports in MN are screened out (4 counties screened out 90% of abuse calls)
* The average abused child is placed in four different homes

Rich’s latest Public Radio interview (listen here)

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Child Abuse – Society Is Paying For This (Hank Marotske today’s Star Tribune)

Truer words were never spoken.

I am encouraged by Abby Simmons Star Trib reporting today on the MN Child Abuse Task Force 11 point plan to make child protection a priority in Minnesota. That a bipartisan group of lawmakers are able to agree that keeping children out of harms way is the least we can do for them gives hope to the possibility of crisis nurseries, day care, and mental health services*.

If adopted, counties can no longer screen out 90% of child abuse reports, reported cases will be shared with police, assessments will be used only when safety of the child is not an issue, and the use of prior child abuse reports will become part of the investigation instead of off limits. Well done MN Task Force On Child Abuse.

The task force needs to stay on the job for another year to keep these critical issues in front of the public (right where it needs to be). Children removed from toxic homes can be helped to deal with the traumas of abuse and neglect and go on to do well in school and life. As CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem dealing with many children over many years I’ve come to know the high cost of abused children falling through the cracks going on to lead dysfunctional lives and their own families of dysfunctional children.

Healing from trauma and abuse, parenting and coping skills do not come from the stork. We can save children as well as our society with sound child protection in Minnesota (and show the nation how it ought to be done**.

Keeping children out of harm’s way is the least we can do for them. Let’s show the nation that Minnesota values children.

*It was pointed out to me recently by Steve Lepinske at the Washburn Center for Children that while there are 3 children’s hospitals in the metro, there are no children’s mental health hospitals. The treatment of traumatized children is a public health/mental health issue.

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Join Kids At Risk Action (Take Action)

At Risk Children Need A Voice & KARA Needs You To Help Us Speak!

Help us grow Kids At Risk Action to make it a strong force to change to child protection and help at risk children.

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You can listen to Invisible Children audio book here (free)

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Child Protection, Kendrea Johnson & The Information War

Kendrea Johnson’s social worker was unaware that Kendrea’s mental health provider knew this six year old girl was severely mentally ill and having daily thoughts of suicide and homicide.

Tannise Nawaqavou, Kendrea’s foster mother didn’t know either. No one told anyone that this six year old girl wanted to kill herself (and others – she had twice threatened to kill her foster mother with a screwdriver).

As a long time Hennepin County CASA guardian ad-Litem, it hurts me to see policies in place that insure not the best interests of the child, but the best chance that people will never know about the terrible things going on in the lives of abused and neglected children. We do this to foster and adoptive parents all the time and it has to stop (it is dishonest). The intensive therapy needed by traumatized children is simply beyond the ability of average people (most foster/adoptive parents – note the privacy laws referred to by child protection in Brandon’s article above).

People (like the psychologist from Pennsylvania (below in read more) quoted in today’s article*) that don’t believe suicide happens to six year old’s just don’t have a clue.

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Falling Through the Cracks (NYTimes) 786 Children Die While in Child Protective Services

This article in yesterday’s NY Times, (from AP) shows how at least 786 children died awful deaths while in full view of child protection authorities. The numbers are most likely much higher (read KARA’S Sad Stories page here).

TAKE ACTION & join KARA in our awareness building campaign to save lives and support abused and neglected children in our communities.

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Minneapolis 6 Year (Kendrea Johnson) Old Hangs Herself? (police left to ponder – I don’t) Star Tribune Today

Thank you Brandon Stahl (& David Chanen) at the Star Tribune for writing an article giving voice to the elephant in the room that is the dangerous and suicidal behavior of children in child protection. No one wants to hear it and no one wants to address this, but it is a very real problem of great consequence to our communities.

As painful as this conversation is, without it, dangerous and suicidal behaviors will continue to be an issue for abused and neglected children in need of protection (in & out of the system).

As a CASA guardian ad-Litem, I see this awful suicide as the tip of the iceberg that is the under-treatment (resources/response/coordination/services) provided to the poor young souls unlucky enough to be born into a dangerous and dysfunctional family.

Children traumatized severely enough to be removed from their birth home don’t have coping skills to mend themselves or manage the behavioral problems that follow from what has been done to them.

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Why Teachers Quit – 2 Perspectives (Finland & Harvard)

When I interviewed teachers for my INVISIBLE CHILDREN book, an art teacher cried as she told me how she had entered teaching because she wanted to make a difference by bringing her love of art and teaching together. No Child Left Behind turned her into a warden with little time for sharing art or her passion for teaching with students that wanted to learn. In her perspective, the school scoring mandate meant that troubled students ended up in her room, because there was no worry about the performance in the “art” class. Fifty students, not thirty. Troubled students with violent outbursts, not seekers of art and beauty. She spent most of her time keeping students safe, not teaching the concepts of color and contour.

She was a dedicated, kind, and generous educator that recognized that the politics driving her chosen vocation were ruining her dream and her life. She told me why she gave up.

She was crying when she told me her story on the curb at a Mayday parade in Minneapolis. I will always remember her.

Her story is repeated in the data and the writings I recommend below.

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Powerful Video Expose On Drugging 5 & 10 Year Old State Ward Children

parasailingThis video from Mercury News is the most comprehensive and powerful discussion I have seen on the topic of forcing abused and neglected children to take psychotropic medications.  Remember, state ward children have no voice in this discussion.  These decisions are made for them by a closed system that rarely shares information and by and large fears discussion on the topic of mental health.

These children’s stories mirror my experience as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem in child protection services and make me wonder how it is possible that this topic still remains under the radar.

Drugging decisions are made often because of fear and cost*, not effectiveness.  The traumas of child abuse can be dealt with if met head on and early but spiral into dysfunctional lifestyles if left untreated.  80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives.

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Minnesota Can Set A National Example Of How Child Protection Works (Bravo Task Force and Governor Dayton)

Roses on WallGovernor Dayton’s Task Force on Child Protection is off to a great start. Thank you Rich Gehrman and all the other Task Force members working hard to make children safe in our state.

You can read the complete recommendations of the Task Force here (22 pages). You can follow it even a little more closely at Safe Passage For Children here

I’m celebrating the recommendation for transparency,

More effective audits,

Eliminating the preference for “assessment” (not finding out if the child is being abused) over “investigation” (finding out if the child is being abused),

Creating a common framework for decision making for the reporting of child abuse,

Eliminating the awful law barring prior screened out reports (they should be permitted and encouraged and maintained for five years),

Including child safety as the PARAMOUNT consideration for decision making,

Sending all reports of maltreatment to law enforcement, and allowing screeners to seek collateral information when making decisions.

These are all in the Task Force Recommendations.

Friends of KARA, Let’s all follow this to the implementation of these recommendations Copy/steal from me any/all of this info and provide it to your friends and networks. These changes must happen if children are to be safe in MN. Let’s make Minnesota an example of how children to keep children safe and well in this nation.

Join KARA & Stand Up For Children

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Yesterday, Don Shelby, KARA & An Expose That Grows Awareness & Concern For Abused and Neglected Children

Yesterday was a big day for Kids At Risk Action. The KARA board talked with Don Shelby for five hours discussing the complicated task of how to create a television expose telling a story that moves people to action to improve the lives of abused and neglected children.

This project will take time, and a great deal of energy and resources. After yesterday, we are confident that with a seasoned reporter and storyteller like Don on board, this project will succeed.

It became clear as we talked that Don Shelby has a thirty year background in telling this kind of story and his heart is with children.

To be most effective, KARA must build a following of people that stand with us on children’s issues.

Watch KARA’s TV short clips here and sign up for our weekly news updates here (9am emailed to you on Fridays) Share these links with your friends and networks and help us build the following we need to make change for children.

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2 Year Old Shoots Florida Mother To Death (more common than you think)

Most years, more citizens are killed by toddlers with guns than terrorists in America. This time, the toddler shot his mom in a Walmart store.

Gun manufacturers have found really effective marketing tools for selling guns to children (like the pink “Crickett” for five year old’s).

While guns are manufactured all over the world, most guns are sold to American citizens as other nations (except Switzerland) have come to understand the consequences of unregulated marketing of firearms.

In 2010, 18,270 children were killed and injured by gunfire – over 100 accidentally. Florida reported almost five hundred child deaths that occurred after the children were reported to Child Protection Services. A few years ago in Florida, to make matters worse, laws were introduced making it illegal for pediatricians to ask a patient about guns in the house or if they were locked away separately from the ammunition (as a child safety issue). The gun lobby is pretty strong in Florida (the child health and safety lobby is not). The initial bill sought a five million dollar fine and five years in prison for asking a Floridian if there was a gun in the home (that is nuts, right?)

Among the industrialized nations, America has slid to near the bottom of almost every public health indicator with 20 times more gun homicides, and way more mass murders, violent crime, criminals, prisoners, and unsafe streets. If we valued public health more, children more, safe streets more, maybe we could give the gun lobby a little more push-back and secure our communities from some of the sadness making the papers every day.

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On The Death Of 6 Year Old Kendrea Johnson (another perspective)

Strangled dead tangled in a jump rope is not something that happens to six year old children (Star Tribune today) Thank you Star Tribune for giving voice to the voiceless children of Minnesota.

As a Hennepin County CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I watched abused and neglected children, traumatized children, whether they be two, four, or six years old, do terribly destructive things and try to kill themselves. My first visit to a four year old CASA case girl was at the suicide ward of Fairview hospital. She had watched the beatings and rape of her mother and sister (who was three years older than her) for most of her four years on earth. Think of the terror going through a child’s mind watching drug crazed, violent, and sexual abuse of your mom and sister. It changes a person.

I’ve written about the seven year old foster boy who hung himself and left a note about how he hated being forced to take Prozac. Children in foster care are often medicated to keep them from hurting themselves and others. You really don’t get into foster care unless you have been traumatized and behavioral issues are endemic to trauma victims. A very real side effect of psychotropic medications is suicidal ideation (fully formed thoughts of killing yourself, delivered by your brain – like a daytime nightmare).
The article in the Tribune makes Kendrea’s death sound like a pretty normal young child accident (Wow). Her younger brother was born drug addicted (the womb has no barrier to protect an infant from drugs and alcohol). Kendrea had been in a number of foster homes (one of my CASA case boys had been in 29 foster placements when he aged out of child protection). This death was not normal. Traumatized children need our help. Tens of thousands of MN children are victims of the kind of abuse Kendrea lived with all of her young life. Very few of them find the help they need to live a normal life. It would be the right thing to do to deliver these children the help they need to make sure they do not injure themselves or others with dangerous behaviors.

Remember friends, we only read about the children that die.

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Kids At Risk Action TV Interview Shorts (for the record)

Abused and neglected children need our voices.

KARA is working with TPT TV to give them a loud and clear voice &

a path to a safer, better life.

Below are short clips from KARA’s documentary project

Watch & Help KARA make this happen.

These brief (2 minutes each) video interview excerpts tell powerful stories of child abuse and child protection in our community.

Share these links with your friends and networks & remember KARA presentations for your next community, religious or business event topic.

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Withholding Medical Care From Children – Is It Legal? (faith based child death – is it murder?)

Over the years KARA has followed the deaths of children dying because their parents withhold medical treatments because of religious beliefs. Beliefs similar to those that prompted the hanging and burning of innocent women as witches in Salem not that long ago.

It is hard to believe current laws deny minimal standards of health and well being for their youngest citizens.

Some states foster very child unfriendly laws concerning access to prenatal care, child health insurance or punishment for withholding available medical care from very ill children based on religious beliefs.

Are children property to be denied readily available medical care?

How often and how hard can you hit your toddler (ten times and leave them bleeding in Kansas and without healthcare )?

Can they be executed for rebellious behavior (Arkansas thought so)

What follows are some of the children that have died because parents refused their children medical care over the past few years. If your state allows the burning of witches or withholding medical care to children make a call to your state representative/Governor, and let your opinion be known.

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