CASA guardian ad-Litem News (find your state here) August 2015

A baby is born addicted to opiates, a young child wakes up to find their parent unresponsive with a needle in their arm, siblings sit in the back seat of a car parked on a country road as their parents are shooting up heroin. LaPorte County and Indiana are experiencing an epidemic. It is drug abuse. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, epidemic is listed as affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time. Certainly we can describe the current rapid spread of opiate use an epidemic.
Last year, there were 17 deaths from heroin overdoses in LaPorte County and Indiana is increasing its needle-exchange program beyond Scott County. The Indiana Department of Child Services is reporting a record-breaking year for child abuse cases. It’s only June and in LaPorte County alone, 50 children have been placed out of their homes due to abuse or neglect.

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Dear Social Worker (a note from the Casey Foundation, KARA and Daniel)

You have chosen one of the most challenging jobs on the planet. Saving children from toxic homes & helping them heal and develop the coping skills necessary to live a functioning life. How do you manage to deal effectively with so many families (and children) at one time?

We all live with the troubled institution that is Child Protection and the lack of awareness, concern and resources our community makes available to abused and neglected children.

Burnout in your profession is high, salaries low & as the Casey Foundation pointed out when Dee Wilson delivered his report to the Hennepin County Commissioners, not much trust for your co-workers or management. Dee Wilson painted a pretty negative picture of the working atmosphere for most social workers.

It hurts me that the 90 minute audio session has been removed from the Hennepin County Commissioners website. I listened to it once and it was gone. I did attend the session, but it’s hard to remember all that was said – and some very blunt truths were delivered to our commissioners.

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Make A Mess, the Pope’s Message to Young People – but help us clean it up (Paraguay speech)

Young people unite, get involved in changing the rights of the poor and our assault on the planet was Pope Francis message to thousands of South America’s young people yesterday. Bring your hope and strength and demand change.

Friends, let’s take the Pope’s message to all of our leaders (religious and political) and push for helping young families and improvements in child protection and juvenile justice in America. The more people involved, the faster change can happen.

All adults are the protectors of all children. All religions are the protectors of all children.

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Childhood Disrupted (the book)

Donna Jackson Nakazawa book CHILDHOOD DISRUPTED explains how a child’s biography becomes her biology and how to heal. It may be the first self help book about ACEs and speaks to why chronic disease, mental illness, violence, suicide, and addiction are so common to abused and neglected children.

Donna is a science journalist that writes about toxic stress and childhood development in a way we can all understand. She presents 13 stories of trauma about people she followed for a year and how childhood stress can lead to a life of illness and sadness.

The happy part of the book is the research that shows how self-care, exercise, adequate sleep, meditation, safe environment/relationships and smart therapies can heal.

You will finish the book understanding how toxic stress changes a person for life, how genes impacted in childhood develop various illnesses and mental health disorders (and what epigenetics is).

This book repeated the experience of my 65 year old attorney friend who bought me lunch when I wrote the book INVISIBLE CHILDREN in 2005. At Lunch he told me in confidence that he had never spoken to anyone about his abuse by a priest as child. When he was 45 years old, smoking, drinking, overweight and on his 3rd marriage and 4th business partnership he finally sought out a therapist who he sees to this this day (about 30 years).

As a long time volunteer CASA child protection guardian ad-Litem, I am convinced that Donna’s truths are profoundly accurate and they explain the sadness and behavioral problems impacting millions of children, our schools, public safety, crime, and community well being.

At some point, we must recognize the crisis our society faces by the terrifically high number of child abuse reports (6 million children annually) and support Donna’s plea for a new medical paradigm with a system in which physicians offer, “not just a drug, but a recovery plan” would make a huge difference in the lives of at risk youth. Send this article to your doctor.

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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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The Unspoken Truth (from Kristin Rode)

My name is Robert Hamelin and when I was 4 years old I entered the Foster Care System. My stepmother began to physically and mentally abuse me. I was taken out of the home I lived in, with her and my father and moved into the first foster home. When I was 9 years old my father was killed. He was the only good memory I had left. His loss had such a deep impact on me. I knew now that I was completely alone. By the time I reached the 6th grade I began acting out for attention. My behaviors became worse. The abuse had continued worse than ever, as now, I was being sexually abused. By the time I was 18 years old I joined the Marine Corps. I needed stability but even more important, I needed to find out if I could overcome my past and succeed, despite 14 years of violent child abuse.

The system failed me but it did not beat me!

Today I am a successful Regional Vice President for Transamerica. I have raised 5 beautiful daughters, 4 of which have already graduated from college. What is disheartening is 32 years after I got out of the Child Protection System, it continues to fail children and the abuse, still all too common. We need to come together to fix a broken system.

Each year, about six hundred thousand abused and neglected American children are removed from their homes, placed into group homes, foster homes, and adoptive homes with minimal mental health counseling and often not much history or training provided to the new care giver. These children are expected to adjust well into society, succeed in school and with their peers

Children in child protective services are only removed from their homes if their lives are in imminent harm. These children are often returned to their homes by Child Protective Services if changes are made. Many children are returned to abusive homes, with little to no follow-up.

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Sherriff’s For Pre K (save our children)

Wow and thank you Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota County Sheriffs. Sheriff Rich Stanek’s “we must make investments in early childhood education for Minnesota kids now to avoid paying far more for the cost of crime in the decades to come” took genuine political courage (thank you from Kids At Risk Action Sheriff).

In the Star Tribune article today I found it ironic that full implementation of the Governor’s Universal Pre School would cost almost as much as we spend on prisons in MN each year (the Sheriff is arguing that we will have fewer people to put in those prisons if we support Pre K education for children).

Sheriff’s Matt Bostrom, Tim Leslie, and Rich Stanek – KARA salutes you.

What follows is probably more than you want to know about the long debate from a law enforcement perspective about education, crime, mental health. Please chime in.

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Drugging Our Kids

This series of videos report on the dramatic increase in the forced use of psychotropic medications by children in California’s foster care system. It very well may be an epidemic in every state.

I have personally watched the explosive use of these drugs over the past twenty years and talked with professionals (including judges, educators, families & service providers) who are very concerned with the dangers of using these powerful anti-psychotic medications in place of mental health treatments for abused and neglected children.

Prior reporting on the topic; A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, and here’s the

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Minnesota’s Chance To Invest In Children & Families (from Governor Mark Dayton’s office)

Free, Full-Day PreK for Every Four-Year-Old – The Governor’s budget would invest $343 million to provide every four-year-old (47,000 kids) access to free, full-day pre-kindergarten learning opportunities statewide.
More Funding for Every School – The Governor’s budget would invest in K-12 schools statewide, increasing the per-pupil funding formula to $5,948 by 2017, and putting additional funding into the special education formula. These new resources would give local school districts the flexibility to meet the needs of their students and classrooms – from lowering class sizes, hiring new counselors, investing in technology, or providing other need programs and services.
Tackling the Achievement Gap – The Governor’s proposal would invest in a multi-layered approach to narrow the state’s achievement gap. It would eliminate the current Head Start waiting list, provide support to help all students read well, target educational support to parents of at-risk children ages 0-8, and more.
Healthy Students – The Governor’s budget would provide free breakfasts for pre-K-3 students, fund in-school programs to improve student behavior, and support parents of at-risk children.
Investing in Higher Education – The Governor’s budget would invest $288 million to freeze tuition at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), expand the State Grant Program, return the University of Minnesota Medical School to national prominence, and make other needed improvements to higher education.

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Cars With 3 Wheels (From Our Friends At Safe Passage For Children Of Minnesota)

A car with three wheels is not 75% as good as one with four. There is a minimum set of features without which a car won’t move at all.

This principle applies to child welfare because elected officials have frequently given this program much less than managers request, and assumed they somehow will make things work. But if the system has, for example, adequate staffing but poor training, or lacks a quality assurance program, it is like a 3-wheeled car. It simply won’t run.

Minnesota has an historic opportunity to rebuild its child welfare program. To accomplish this the legislature must step up to approve the $50 million that the Governor has put in his budget, so state and county managers have the tools they need to do the job.

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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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Beer, Music, Fabulous Trips (Africa/DisneyWorld) Join CASA MN March 9th at Surly Brewing 530pm (our annual fundraiser)

It’s gonna be great. Join CASA MN at our fundraiser (silent and live auction) and learn about the good work volunteer guardian ad-Litems do.

5:30 – 8:30 p.m. 520 Malcolm Avenue Southeast Minneapolis

Beer, hors d’ oeuvres, music, opportunities for fabulous trips (African photo safari or DisneyWorld, anyone?), and – best of all – a time to celebrate the good work of CASA Minnesota and its volunteers. Who could want more?

Seating limited – tickets on sale now!

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Common books Symposium Century College (KARA 1 of 5 panel members) 2.25.15 10 am (free)

1) Ernie Boswell, psychology, speaking on Vets Issues

2) Dick Kotasek, addiction counseling instructor, speaking on

how counseling the addicted has changed.

3) Eve Bergmann, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and addiction

counseling, speaking on her 30 years of practice.

4) Justin Martin, psychologist, speaking on GLBT Issues

5) Mike Tikkanen, Kids at Risk Action, speaking on rights and

awareness of abused and neglected children.

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KARA Conversation With A Minnesota Police Chief

My conversation with a Minnesota police chief today was eye opening.

He spoke of how city leaders don’t take his repeated warning about the growing body of experience his community is having with troubled children & families. These leaders debate his stated daily reality for his police officers as if it were a small thing.

Like the growing bloc of dysfunctional families with serious mental health and coping problems and how this population is stressing the police force, courts and public welfare systems and how that added stress flows into the daily lives of the city/county workers themselves leading to serious problems of failure in school and failure of child protection systems and the high rate of worker turnover in education and social work. And then there’s the costs to the County and diminished quality of life to the citizens.

We both see that there is far too much training that goes into the difficult work of teaching and social work to see turnover rates growing as fast as they are. No one likes poor graduation rates or high crime rates. Unsafe neighborhoods are no good for anyone.

His view is that the elasticity of our systems is not limitless – it will break at a point and become a major social ill impacting our entire civil society making life painful for all of us.

It is precisely the functionality of our institutions that have made life in this nation as attractive as it has been.

For a growing number of people conditions are getting worse and this includes working people forced to deal with a more problematic and behaviorally challenged population.

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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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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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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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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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Comment on Brandon Stahl’s Friday article on uninvestigated child sex abuse cases 12/5/14

I’ve taken from Brandon Stahl’s article on uninvestigated child sex abuse cases that someone has decided that children reported as sexually abused before 2013 will go uninvestigated and stay where they are (even if they are still being sexually abused) as the County doesn’t see it important to put resources to finding out if these children are still endangered.

In my caseload as a CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I know children as young as two who were sexually abused – and the resulting traumas that followed them for life. They deserve to be rescued.

I find this cheap, short sighted policy making appalling and I know that it is much more costly to ignore them than to do the right thing.

Will someone besides Brandon Stahl please speak out for these kids?

What kind of a community writes off the worst kinds of child abuse for relatively modest financial reasons?

Any investigation into the financial aspects of these bad decisions will discover that we do not save money by allowing children to remain in horridly abusive homes.

These are the kids with severe behavioral problems and poor coping skills that fail in our schools, become preteen moms, adolescent felons, and make our communities unhealthy and unsafe.

What costs money are failing schools, unsafe streets, prisons and recidivism (70% nationally).

What a cold hard people we have become (and bad at math).

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Child Death Reviews Thwarted in Edmonton (council chair quits in protest)

Dr Lionel Dibden resigned his chairmanship of the Council for Quality Assurance Nov 27th due to lack of transparency and limiting the scope of child fatality reviews. These are the problems facing all child protection service providers. Which children should be reviewed, what should accountability look like, and who should have access to information?

Tough questions – unless seen through the eyes of a child.

A community that hides information that is screaming for attention serves neither the child nor the community. Schools suffer as abused children carry their traumas with them into the classroom, communities suffer because traumatized youth commit crimes and suffer pregnancy and disease at very high rates, and prisons are expensive. Recidivism in the U.S. has reached 70%. Worst of all, the extreme suffering I have witnessed during my years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem. The unspeakable horrors committed on children who were unlucky enough to be born into toxic homes (lasts forever).

Support KARA’s efforts to bring awareness and change to child protection through our documentary project

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KARA’s Brandon Stahl Reader (compiled and annotated Star Tribune articles by Brandon Stahl on child abuse & child protection for the record)

For many months now, the Star Tribune’s intrepid reporter Brandon Stahl has been researching and writing about the depth and scope of problems facing MN’s abused and neglected children.

This page is dedicated to Brandon’s work and the thousands of children that pass through child protection services each year in MN (and the thousands of abused/traumatized children that need help but are ignored).

Most of the disturbing information Brandon uncovered in his reporting is hidden and would never have been known without his persistence and hard work. Our child protection systems are practiced in not making information easy to find.

I have spent many years as a volunteer in the field of child protection looking for this kind of information and been unable to discover even a fraction of what Brandon Stahl has made public by his reporting.

This CASA guardian ad-Litem is cautiously optimistic that Governor Dayton (and other public figures) are speaking out* about the lack of public awareness, poor public policy, and resulting institutional failures that are ruining so many lives and so directly contributing to trouble in our schools and on our streets (and the racial disparity this state is so well known for).

For the first time in my memory, the important issues of child abuse and child protection have become serious front page news and there is a possibility that Governor Dayton’s task force will ultimately bring about critical changes needed to improve the lives of children born into toxic homes.

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