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

January 25, 2015 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, education, Foster Care, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

guatemalan boy 2With one of the nation’s largest child abuse agencies, 2.5 billion dollar budget, & 8000 employee, Texas struggles to deal 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 know for its consistently low voter turnout.

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

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.

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, and a serious 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 run 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 this 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.

The cost of staying the course in Texas will be astronomical.  Every five years, over a million children, unable to cope, with little access to resources that could help them develop the skills necessary to live a productive life enter Texas society.  

Paraphrasing Pliny the Elder (2500 years ago) What you do to your children Texas, they will do to your society. 


Donate any amount to support KARA’s ongoing efforts for abused and neglected children And Join us for the Friday morning email update here (it’s free & you can share it widely)

Read the rest of this entry →

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

January 24, 2015 in CASA, Child Death, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

penguinsA busy week for KARA.

Board member Sam Ashkar and I met with Steve Lepinski, CEO of the Washburn Center.  We have much in common and hope the conversation continues.  One of Steve’s observations has stuck with me, “there are three children’s hospitals in the metro, and no children’s mental health hospitals”.

I shared an article from the morning Star Tribune that reported “between 800 and 1000 emergency psychiatric visits at HCMC each month”.  It is the tip of the iceberg that is mental health and how it is just under the surface and at a crisis level in our community.

We should all champion the need for more and better mental health services for children.  Few people are aware of the depth and scope of the problem that so directly impacts our schools, public health, and public safety.  Crime, violence, and abuse don’t flourish in mentally healthy people.

Wednesday was spent at the Century College intern fair, looking for writers and researchers for our website.  Several promising candidates showed up.

Friday was spent with about a thousand close friends (and child advocates) 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 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 prenatal care, stabilizing young families, 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 (in dollars and quality of life) of not valuing children enough to insure at least basic health and skills,


2) Governor Dayton’s remarks about how infighting among service providers could damage his efforts to provide 327 million dollars for children and education in his current budget proposal (which certainly would not serve the children we were there to advocate for).

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 and are repeated again as that child starts another family just like the one he/she came from.

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).

Both political parties made much of “the cost” of helping children achieve basic health and skills (and yes, mental health is health).  For a nation that spends so lavishly on war and military budgets, it hurts me how cheap we can be when it concerns our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

Other advanced nations provide free or very low cost high quality daycare and require advanced degrees for providers, MN has 8000 families on a waiting list for subsidized daycare and pays providers the same as food service workers (one of the lowest paid professions).

How does this state value its children?  As a long-time volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I saw too many children left with drunk/druggy uncles and allot of neglect and abuse because of it.

Our website monthly traffic has more than doubled (from under 4000 to over 9000) in the last 45 days and if it continues, we can achieve the big numbers we need for success with our documentary/expose project.

 To that end, please share each Friday’s 9am email web update with your Facebook and or other social media (if you did not get one this morning please let me know).


There is an immediate need for all of us to send a written letter in support of Transparency as there is an assault underway presently to end what little there is.  If they are successful, Reporters like Brandon Stahl will not be able to get the information they need to report on stories like the death of Eric Dean.  Who wins?

This is awful and it is important that you do this.  Click here to submit comments (that will stop this assault on Transparency)  (go to the bottom of the page) You must send a written letter… not emails.

If it had not been for Brandon Stahl’s reporting, we would not have a Governor’s Task Force On Child Protection and no one would know about Eric Dean or the other 60 abused children that have died in this state recently.  Let’s keep the light focused on children.

CASAMN is holding its Fundraiser on March 5th at the Surly Brewing company…. Please show support & share this widely; It’s fun, a great bunch of people and a very important cause


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

January 23, 2015 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, video by Mike Tikkanen

babies best everAnyone 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)

Watch & Share these 2 minute trailers from KARA’s TV documentary project (help us BUILD KARA & spread the word);



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

January 22, 2015 in CASA, Child Death, Foster Care, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

Pensive ParakeetTruer 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, there will be more transparency about child abuse and how it is addressed in each county, counties will 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.

**If you are interested in how other states are doing, search the Blog Categories on the right hand side of this website (search “The States”)

Watch KARA’s 2 minute Child Protection Video  Join The KARA Army to Give Children A Voice Here

by admin

Child Protection, Kendrea Johnson & The Information War

January 20, 2015 in CASA, Child Death, Foster Care, Invisible Children, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by admin

coyote-yellowstone_56393_600x450Thank you Brandon Stahl & Star Tribune, and all journalists taking seriously the issues of child protection.  If you keep digging and writing, it may just be that Minnesota can become an example to the nation of what state’s do when they value children.

Both articles today (James Eli Shiffer & Brandon Stahl/Paul McENROE) speak to the critical importance of information transparency and how not much changes when we the people are kept in the dark.

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.

I’ve written about my experiences with suicidal children, seven year old foster boy Gabriel Myers hung himself and left a note about how he hated Prozac (Kendrea Johnson left a note also), Mayoral candidate Don Samuels spoke in a KARA interview about his experience as a city councilman dealing with a suicidal five year old, and ask any experienced child protection worker and they will have stories of dangerous if not suicidal behaviors of very young children.

The suicide warnings on the packets of Ritalin (banned in Sweden in 1968 because of suicides), Prozac, and dozens of other psychotropic medications forced upon the thousands of children in child protective services in this nation are pretty clear proof that the issue is real.  Big Pharma is not a friend in this war on information.  Pay attention to how big Pharma does not show up or receive much attention even when psychotropic medications are present in the victim at death.

My experience in years of volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem work is the child running into traffic, falling off a high roof, or other extremely dangerous behavior.  These kids have been horribly traumatized, they blame themselves and are often filled with self loathing.  We don’t talk about this (and we don’t address it).

Had it not been for the heavy media exposure in the Star Tribune on these issues, I believe Kendrea’s suicide would not have been classified as such (it was not until the media continued writing about it that the information about the mental health worker’s statements about her suicidal/homicidal talk became known).  We just don’t want to know about this awful condition as a community.  Until this discussion and the information about it is made public (thank you Governor Dayton’s Task Force on Child Protection), abused and neglected children will suffer long after they are removed from the toxic homes that have caused them such trauma.

In a prior KARA interview, Brandon Stahl spoke on how hard counties make it to access information about children in child protection, even after the child has died.  Freedom of information act requests often met with foot dragging and excessive costs (of public information).

There is no good reason to not make the data available.  Multiple approaches exist that can safeguard the privacy of the child/family.  This is not rocket science.

The longer it takes to achieve transparency, the longer it takes to identify the depth and scope of the problems and create support for solving them.  Until this happens, the nightmare that is life for children unlucky enough to be born into generational families of abuse and neglect will continue.  We can do better.

Sign up for our weekly updates and help us build the awareness army to support these children;

Watch & Share these 2 minute trailers from KARA’s TV documentary project (help us BUILD KARA & spread the word FREE);

Help KARA fund our TV Expose

*David Palmiter, a psychology professor at Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania, who researches child and adolescent behavioral disorders, said he never had come across a case of suicidal thinking in a child younger than 10 in more than 25 years of practice.

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

January 19, 2015 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

mississippi double exposure red wingThis 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. Read the rest of this entry →

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

January 15, 2015 in Child Death, Foster Care, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

image001Thank you Brandon Stahl (& David Chanen) at the Star Tribune for writing this article giving voice to the elephant in the room that is dangerous and suicidal behavior of very young 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 children and 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.  Considerations:

Judge Heidi Schellhas shared a list of children from four to fourteen forced to take psychotropic medications.  It was a very big list – nationally, between a third and one half of children in CP are proscribed psychotropic medications.  Label warnings about the dangers of suicide for consumers of these powerful medications are not there for nothing.  Suicidal ideation is very real. Fully formed thoughts of suicide for five year olds – what’s that like?

I’ve written about suicides of young people over the years; the most pertinent article to this case is 7 year old foster child Gabriel Myers who hung himself and left a note about how he hated Prozac.

Recent mental health guidelines for medicating three year olds

Only the worst of the worst cases of child abuse make it into child protection – these children have been traumatized and they need a high level of care not readily available in the average foster home.

Abused children often feel responsible for what has happened to them and carry powerful feelings of guilt and self loathing that plague them every hour of every day.

My direct experience comes from an experience of suicidal ideation delivered by Topamax, proscribed to me for migraine headaches (it did not work) and an 11 year old CASA guardian ad-Litem boy on Ritalin asking me, “when will I be normal”.  He had many attempts at suicide over the years I was his guardian ad-Litem.

There are many stories about traumatized boys and girls carrying lighter fluid, cuts themselves, violent behaviors and dangerous to the people trying to help them recover.

Those are often the people hurt the worst.  In this case, Kendrea threatened to kill her foster mother with a screwdriver and told her she wanted “to jump out a window and kill herself”.  

We the people have avoided this conversation for many years.  Until we have it, the prisons will remain full, schools will struggle to teach children with unmanageable / dangerous behavioral problems, and we will read about suicidal six year old boys and girls.

They are children and they need our help.

Stand Up For Children (share this with your friends and networks and help KARA’s voice for children grow)




Why Teachers Quit – 2 Perspectives (Finland & Harvard)

January 11, 2015 in education, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, video, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

THINK AGAIN BROOKLY PARKWhen I interviewed teachers for my INVISIBLE CHILDREN book, an art teacher cried as she told me how she chose 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 classroom 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.

Two recent works, Finnish Lesson: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland, with Pasi Sahlberg’s comments on it below and a most recent Harvard study addressing why teacher turnover in the U.S. is so high paint a picture that points in a direction opposite most political arguments.  It is a picture that indicates the gaping disparity between children from poor and troubled backgrounds, often with mental health issues as well as learning disabilities.  Teachers are expected to teach the teachable and manage the unmanageable, often children medicated on psychotropic medications exhibiting violent and dangerous behaviors.  It’s exhausting, frustrating, unrewarding, and scary.  The job is hard, turnover is high, and the lack of resources and respect is appalling.

I know this unpopular, but read these well grounded works and give me your feedback.  In my experience with abused and neglected children in child protection I came to know the hard core dedication it takes to continue the impossible task of cajoling, praising, and diligently observing the child that just flushed your cell phone down the toiled, kicked you as hard as she could, stabbed you with a pencil and called you a BLANKETY BLANK BLANK BLANK.

You teacher, have my utmost respect.  I could not do what you do.  Certainly not two days in a row.

Watch and Share KARA’s 2 minute video on improving life for at risk children  Raise Your Voice For Children (free weekly email updates on issues important to children) Read the rest of this entry →

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

January 9, 2015 in CASA, Child Death, Foster Care, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States, video by Mike Tikkanen

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.

Using powerful mind altering pills might stop the  short term dangerous behaviors of abused children, but it is most often counterproductive to the long term development of the child.  People need to cope with their environment, not be medicated to live in it.

From where I stand, between 1/3 and 2/3 of children in America’s CPS are forced to take pyschotropic medications, and about 2/3 of the youth in juvenile justice take them (half of them have multiple, chronic, and severe mental health diagnosis).

To calculate the long term costs of psychotropically medicating millions of American children we should include the expense of giant prison populations, 70% recidivism rates (the nation average), failing schools (no longer are we a leader among nations in graduation rates or test taking – children with mental health issues don’t do well in school), between 1 & 1.6 trillion dollars the insurance companies pay out for the cost of crime in this nation each year, and add some number for the cost of unlivable inner cities where crime, drugs, and violence are endemic.  Of course, if one of the assaulted, robbed, or murdered victims was known to you, the cost would be significantly higher.

I’ve written about the 7 year old foster boy who hung himself and left a note about Prozac, the 4 year old CASA girl that I visited in the suicide ward at Fairview hospital, Judge Heidi Schellhas sharing her list of 4,5, 6 and ten year old children in her courtroom proscribed psychotropic meds, suicidal ideation, and the experiences I have had with children in my caseload.

This video is a must view for anyone in the system that wants a better understanding of the impact of these drugs.  It does not include suicidal ideation conversation, and that is a mistake as suicidal ideation is a common side effect of these drugs.  Think about what it must be like for a five year old to experience uncontrollable fully formed thoughts of killing herself.

*I understand the need to have an answer for the five year old trying to kill herself in your presence – it is important that the drugs be available, only, not “just the drugs” – children deserve more.

Thank you Karen de Sa , Mike Frankel, and Mercury News.

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

January 8, 2015 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

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 more closely at Safe Passage For Children here

I’m celebrating the recommendations 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 and they are a great beginning for child safety in our state.

Friends of KARA, Let’s take the few minutes each week it takes to follow these recommendations to their implementation.

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




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

December 31, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

December 31, 2014

infernoMost years, more citizens are killed by toddlers with guns than terrorists in America.  This time, the toddler shot his mom in a Walmart store.  In November this year, 3 people were shot in 1 week by America’s toddlers.  Toddlers shooting themselves rarely receive media attention.

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.

Unrelated to guns,  Florida reported almost five hundred child deaths that occurred after the children were reported to Child Protection Services.  

To make matters worse for Florida children,  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 the people 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.

Watch and share KARA’S 2 minute documentary clip of Star Tribune reporter discussing the death of 4 year old Eric Dean

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

December 30, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Foster Care, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Politics and Funding, Public Policy by Mike Tikkanen

Lake AtitlanStrangled dead tangled in a jump rope is not something that happens to six year old children (Star Tribune today)

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 children that die.  None of the 50 children in my case load ever made the paper.

Thank you Karen Zamora, Nicole Norfleet, Brandon Stahl and Star Tribune for giving voice to the voiceless children of Minnesota.


Safe Passage For Children Director Rich  Gehrman (2 minute video interview)

Documentary Trailer (2 minute video)




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

December 20, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

4 little kittens..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 (remember, at risk children are too young to speak for themselves and have no voice but yours).


  • Defense looks to minimize faith in the faith healing death of ……/defense-looks-to-minimize-faith-in-the-faith-healin…

    Apr 20, 2014 – When people like this serve serious jail time and their faith-basedcommunities get … Oregon media traces child faith healing deaths to Idaho.

  • Faith-based Schaibles plead “no contest” in death of child ……/faith-based-schaibles-plead-no-contest-in-death-of-…

    Nov 14, 2013 – Herbert and Catherine Schaible – the Philadelphia couple who have watched two children die because of their belief in prayer over medicine …

  • Is James Foley a martyr? A brutal death sparks a faith-based ……/james-foley-martyr-bru…

    Religion News Service

    Aug 26, 2014 – 24) during the memorial Mass in Rochester, N.H., for their son, James, who was murdered by Islamic militants. Photo courtesy of Shawn St.

  • Faith healing – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


    “Death, disability, and other unwanted outcomes have occurred when faith healing was… When parents use faith healing in the place of medical care, many children havedied that … “Faith” in this context is based on biblical uses of the term.

  • More children killed by religiously-based medical neglect ……/more…

    Why Evolution is True

    Nov 16, 2013 – The report also gives a list of child deaths from treatable conditions like … Faith-based healing kills kids: this time U.S. gets it right and  …

  • Children pay with their lives for parents’ deliberate ignorance…/children-pay-with-…

    James Randi Educational Foundation

    Nov 13, 2014 – Children suffer and die from this antiquated, absurd belief system. … by allowing faith-based exemptions for mistreatment and even death.

  • Faith Healing and the Law | Pew Research Center’s Religion …

    Aug 31, 2009 – This regulation required that states receiving funds for child abuse …discrimination based on religion, protected them from prosecution. Almost  …

  • [PDF]Child Welfare Versus Parental Autonomy – University of ……/Child%20welfare%20v.%20Paren…

    by KS HICKEY – ‎2004 – ‎Cited by 21 – ‎Related articles

    MEDICAL ETHICS, THE LAW, AND FAITH-BASED. HEALING. ABSTRACT. Over the past three decades more than 200 children have died in the.

  • Gentle Books for Children Dealing with Grief and Death…/KC8JRF33CG21

    “Sensitive, empathetic, informative, inspiring, faith-based. “After the Tears” is the best video for helping children deal with the phenomenon of death.”  …

  • Faith healing – RationalWiki

    “”When I was a boy a farmer’s wife who lived five miles from our village had great …prayer and intercessory prayer, sometimes augmented by faith-based rituals. …children have died in the US since 1975 due to people putting too much faith in  …

    • Another faith-healing death of a child puts Oregon City ……/another_faith-healing_case_pu…

      Sep 11, 2011 – Prosecutors will contend that the Hickmans failed their son and caused his death because of their faith-based aversion to doctors and  …

Canadian Police Charge Parents After One-Year-Old Boy ……/canadian-police-charge-parents-after-one-y…


Canadian Police Charge Parents After One-Year-Old Boy Dies Due To Faith-BasedDiet. December 15, 2014 by Terry Firma 0 Comments. In November of last ..

How MN Values Its Most Vulnerable Citizens (child abuse reported by Brandon Stahl)

December 20, 2014 in Child Death, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

casa_v_redblue_R_alt_rgb_normalWork with KARA to keep the conversation around child safety and child protection front and center in our state.  Without attention, these stories fade until the next horrific thing done to a child makes the paper.

Forward this article to people you know asking them to vote for child friendly programs and legislation (crisis nurseries, prenatal care, early childhood programs) and to speak out for children in horrid circumstances.  Speak out & become a voice for at risk youth (become a CASA guardian ad-Litem).

With your help, we can do better;

Recent child protection reporting from Brandon Stahl at the Minneapolis Star Tribune;

Child abuse reports need better response, investigation, task force says

More than 30 changes are planned to improve state’s child protection system.

Updated: December 12, 2014, – 10:48 PM

Police arrest father suspected in Brooklyn Park toddler’s death

The 23-month-old’s death is likely to loom large at state task force meeting Friday morning to ready its recommendations.

Updated: December 12, 2014, – 12:26 AM

Child protection officials had been alerted about suspect now sought in death of Brooklyn Park baby boy

A fugitive suspected of killing his 1-year-old child was reported at least three times to Hennepin County child protection for abusing the boy and his sibling, public records show.

Updated: December 11, 2014, – 05:34 AM

County child protection agencies failed to investigate 203 sex abuse reports

Instead, the reports went to “family assessment” program for less serious offenses.

Updated: December 10, 2014, – 12:35 PM

Child protection systems are in turmoil across the country

New York, Florida and Arizona overhauled their child protection systems this year, and now Minnesota is poised to follow their lead.

Updated: November 30, 2014, – 05:53 AM

MAP: Child protection in crisis

The deaths of children have prompted the resignations of child protection officials around the country. Meanwhile, a national commission is…

Updated: November 29, 2014, – 04:49 PM

Child protection task force seeks public comment

Gov. Mark Dayton’s child protection task force wants the public’s help to improve the system.The task force is seeking comment…

Updated: November 18, 2014, – 05:17 PM

Message to task force: More scrutiny for Minnesota child protection

National expert recommends basic measures to improve child protection system.

Updated: November 14, 2014, – 09:14 PM

Lessons from child abuse deaths go unheeded in Minnesota

The deaths of 56 children from maltreatment in Minnesota since 2005 should guide changes in child protection. But the system too often fails to learn from the past.

Updated: November 11, 2014, – 10:39 AM

Interactive graphic: Children failed by the system

The Star Tribune identified 56 children since 2005 who died from maltreatment in Minnesota, even though they or their caregivers…

Updated: November 11, 2014, – 10:38 AM

“Family assessment” program is said to fail victims of serious abuse.

Updated: November 06, 2014, – 06:26 AM

Minnesota Poll: Child protection gets passing grade

Yet nearly a third say workers are not aggressive enough removing kids from homes.

Updated: October 28, 2014, – 05:44 AM

Front-line workers detail child protection challenges

The second meeting of the governor’s task force reveals tensions over who’s to blame for shortcomings.

Updated: October 22, 2014, – 08:57 PM

Task force assails child protection for meager follow-up

Task force looks at lack of follow-up from child protection services

Updated: October 14, 2014, – 06:17 AM

Hennepin County judge ‘sickened’ by abuse program’s failures

Former advocate of family assessment program says it was never meant for high-risk cases.

Updated: October 12, 2014, – 05:59 AM

April 21: Counties ‘screen out’ most child abuse reports

Bill would require better tracking of child abuse cases that are screened out without investigation.

Updated: October 11, 2014, – 11:48 PM

How family assessment failed Key’Ontay Miller-Peterson

Over and over, family members and day-care providers reported that Key’Ontay Miller-Peterson was being beaten by his mother’s violent boyfriend….

Updated: October 11, 2014, – 08:13 PM

Dayton makes appointments to child abuse task force

A task force charged with recommending how Minnesota can better protect children will feature both defenders of the current system…

Updated: October 03, 2014, – 07:19 PM

Sept. 23: Gov. Dayton acts to step up response to child protection

Gov. Mark Dayton ordered random checks of county child protection decisions and created a team that can advise counties struggling with those issues.

Updated: September 24, 2014, – 10:44 AM

Hennepin County seeks protection for Adrian Peterson’s son

The petition asked a judge to approve a safety plan for the child, including that Adrian Peterson not have any unsupervised or unauthorized contact with the child.

Updated: September 20, 2014, – 06:34 AM

Minnesota law says child protection must investigate

County attorney says “active steps” would be taken to protect a child from further harm.

Updated: September 18, 2014, – 08:32 AM

Minnesota to review child protection after ‘colossal failure’

Minnesota has begun an investigation of its entire child protection system in the wake of the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean.

Updated: September 10, 2014, – 11:09 PM

Sept. 9: DHS wants to scrap just-passed law on child protection

Legislators want to change bill they voted for, saying they didn’t know it would restrict past abuse reports.

Updated: September 08, 2014, – 10:23 PM

Lawmakers: Child-protection system failed Eric Dean

Legislators in both parties insist that child protection must do a better job.

Updated: September 04, 2014, – 12:12 AM

No. 6: Eric Dean, the boy they couldn’t save

Special report: On 15 occasions, day-care workers and others told Pope County’s child-protection agency they suspected Eric Dean was being hurt. But it was not enough.

Updated: September 01, 2014, – 02:38 PM

Timeline: The life and death of Eric Dean

Fifteen times, Pope County child protection got reports that Eric was in danger. Only once did the county do an…

Updated: August 30, 2014, – 10:14 PM

Aug. 20: Hennepin County knew since 1993 of abuse, neglect allegations vs. Mpls. couple

A Minneapolis couple were taken into custody Tuesday, five months after their newborn’s death.

Updated: August 30, 2014, – 10:13 PM


Maple Grove woman who drove car into pond faces child neglect allegations

Doctor had raised concerns over food, care for daughter, who survived deadly crash.

Updated: July 03, 2014, – 10:02 AM

Golden Valley girl removed from home amid ‘shocking’ neglect

The mother of the Golden Valley girl was charged with child endangerment after a police sting.

Updated: May 30, 2014, – 11:48 PM


May 18: State misses chances to save abused kids’ lives

In some cases, state says, counties could have done more to save children from abuse and neglect.

Updated: May 18, 2014, – 10:13 PM

Phone: 612-673-4626
Brandon Stahl is a watchdog reporter with the Star Tribune. He previously worked as the investigations editor at the Duluth News Tribune, where his stories on physician malpractice and medical errors, drug abuse, tax dollar waste, sex offenders and police misconduct have won numerous state and national journalism awards.

Abused To Death While Child Protective Services Observed – 1000+ American Children in six years (AP report)

December 18, 2014 in Child Death, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

mn panorama leaves turned 2This article in the Huffington Post about an AP compilation (over 8 months they canvassed all fifty states) on children dying while involved in America’s child protection systems makes it clear that the issues being discussed by MN Governor Dayton’s  Task Force on Child Protection are shared by most if not all states in this nation.

786 children were included in the report, but 230 open-case child deaths were not (seven states with poor reporting were left out).

It is common for state institutions to make information unavailable or hard to find when it comes to child welfare and for governmental agencies “not” to cooperate or share information (especially child death information).

In my experience as a CASA guardian ad-Litem, refusing to share information to help an abused child is always to the detriment of the child being abused.  It was because the state did not do a criminal background check that a 7 year old boy was put in the care of a man who had spent 2/3 of his adult life in prison for the kinds of crimes he was about to commit on the boy.  

There was even a court order in an adjacent state keeping that man from being around young boys because of what he did to them.  That boy was tied to a bed, beaten, starved, sexually abused, left alone in the apartment for days at a time with no toilet access or food.  He was covered from head to foot, front and back, with welts and bruises when I met him.  He never made the paper and no one besides myself and a few service providers know his story.

Yes, caseloads are too high, training and resources are inadequate to meet the needs of these children, and people throughout the system are unable to provide the level of care these children need.  Instead of hiding these facts, we need to talk about them… loudly and persistently.

Brandon Stahl, the intrepid Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter spoke to KARA on camera about how difficult he found it to gather information on abused and murdered children in MN.  Not making public information relevant to how a child died serves no good purpose.  Who are we protecting by this secrecy?

When there is transparency, issues can be identified, addressed, and resolved.  Until then, America’s child protection issues will remain under-reported, under-discussed, under-addressed, misunderstood, and never resolved.

We are better than this aren’t we?


 Buy our book or donate    2 minute Documentary Trailer

Minneapolis Public Schools – Ready To Learn Has Real Meaning For At Risk Youth

December 13, 2014 in education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

3rd grade reading proficiency, by race/ethnicity

Percent of students scoring a 21 or higher on the ACT — overall and by student group (2014)

Source: Minneapolis Public Schools
This data is a pretty good indication that a great many metro children are not ready to learn when they enter school.
Early childhood programs and help for young families could go a long way in improving these statistics.

Is Minnesota Setting A “Great” Example For Dealing With Child Protection Issues?

December 13, 2014 in Child Death, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

mississippi double exposure red wingWith Governor Dayton’s Task Force recommendations reported in today’s Star Tribune article (Dayton’s Task Force Agrees On Overhaul, Brandon Stahl), I am optimistic that this (“great” example) approach to child well being could become a reality.

Ten years ago, the father of one of my family’s Mexican foreign exchange students explained how he (as a State of Sinaloa Legislator) had traveled to MN and CA to review child protection systems.  At the time, these were the two states he deemed to have the most advanced and effective systems in the nation.

MN has at one time done child protection as well or better than any other state – when reviewed by someone without bias.

MN reduced child protection funding by over forty million dollars these past few years.  This explains sad stories like Eric Dean’s death after fifteen (ignored) reports of abuse by mandated reporters and why family assessments replaced child protection, why social workers are shorted training, process, and resources needed to effect the change that could heal toxic families or provide safety to their young charges.

The other side of this (“great example”) headline are states setting a “worst” examples?  

There are many states where it is increasingly dangerous for children born as the next generation of (sad stories) abused and neglected children to become preteen mothers and adolescent felons, many of whom are proscribed psychotropic medications to control dangerous behaviors.  If you Google “worst states in America”, they are the states with;

the least;

spent on prenatal care, crisis nurseries, early childhood education, child welfare and child protection,

the most;

 child poverty, infant mortality, child abuse death, child death, teen death, births to teen moms, sexually transmitted diseases among youth, least amount spent on child welfare, child poverty, uninsured children, 

These states fail to grasp the impact of not saving at risk children and breaking the cycle of dysfunctional children and generational child abuse.  

Youth without coping skills or basic parenting ability, often with alcohol & drug problems and tendencies towards violence and sex abuse have a huge impact on the schools they attend, dropout rates, jail and prison populations, and the quality of life in their communities.  

Minnesotans should recognize that the forty million dollars in child protection cuts these past few years has probably cost many times that much in troubled youth with marginal coping skills, mental health issues, and *violent/criminal behaviors.  

When it is your child, neighbor, or friend that is mugged, assaulted, robbed, or worse, these words have much more impact.  

Ask your teacher friends what it’s like to preside over a classroom with troubled youth, or your friend with a child adopted from County Child Protection, 

Ask your social worker friends what it is like to work within a system where the needs are so great and the resources so few.

*Nationally, the insurance costs of crime are between 1 and 1.6 trillion dollars a year.

Buy our book or donate 2 minute documentary trailer

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Support KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift  Chose Kids At Risk Action at Amazon Smile (they donate to KARA out of your online purchases)

International Rights of the Child Treaty (U.S. & Somalia the only countries not signed on)

December 10, 2014 in Child Death, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

Guatemala ChildrenOver 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, not to be enslaved).

America is the only nation that has not signed that agreement, largely because we still demand that southern states continue to militarize youth as young as eleven, through military schools.

All children have the rights guaranteed by the Convention, without discrimination of any kind.

“The child shall enjoy all the rights set forth in this Declaration. Every child, without any exception whatsoever, shall be entitled to these rights, without distinction or discrimination on account of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, whether of himself or of his family.”

These rights are:

  • Development with dignity
  • A name and nationality
  • Access to food, housing, and medical care
  • Special care if handicapped
  • Love and understanding
  • A free education
  • Care in dangerous situations
  • Peace, love, and frienship

Please share this widely


 Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift  Chose Kids At Risk Action at Amazon Smile (they donate to KARA out of your online purchases)


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

December 8, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen



Please forward this letter (or in your own words) to Governor Dayton;

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).




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

December 4, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

children down hill having funFrom the Edmonton Journal

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


It Happens Over and Over (profound child abuse – child death – inadequate reporting & response)

December 3, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

invisible children picture web 11.09Thank you Brandon Stahl for your dogged research and reporting.

This is my take from Brandon’s article of Nov 30th (linked above)

Minnesota’s recent brutal murder of 4 year old Eric Dean after 14 ignored reports of child abuse by mandated reporters (and one family assessment) is becoming just one of thousands of cruel stories demonstrating the low value our nation places on children.

As American’s, we talk big about how we value children and our religious affiliations are many, but there really is very little child protection in the U.S.  If you are three years old and your caregiver is repeatedly abusing you, there’s a good chance no one will help you.

Watching this over many years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem causes me great pain and it is only recently that I have found any hope that conditions might change for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

MN has tried to reform its child protection system 3 times in the last 25 years, 16 state and county agency heads the nation have resigned or been fired (mostly after the death of children they were hired to protect).

In Maine, it is estimated that up to 70% of abused to death children were known to child protection agencies.  In Arizona, 6000 child abuse reports were ignored by the agencies and many children died (they abolished Arizona’s child protection agency afterwards).  Florida reported almost five hundred children killed while known to child protection (since 2008).

What follows is my past reporting on how various states treat their youngest citizens;

One thousand stories of child abuse across the nation (find your state here)

Three year olds on Prozac (how does it work in your state?)

Ohio, Texas, and Florida child protection news

Kids For CAsh (how bad can it get)

Almost half the children dying from abuse in Colorado were in or known to child protection

State of Virginia screens out 83% of all child abuse reports

For more, click on “the states” right hand column on our website dropdown “select a category”


Dear Governor Dayton’s Task Force On Child Protection (for the record)

November 26, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

Pensive ParakeetI sent this letter to the Governor’s Task Force earlier today (share it with your contacts);

Dear Governor’s Task Force People,

I’ve been a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem since 1996 and witnessed many terrible things being done to children both in and out of child protective services (none of them ever made the paper or received any public awareness).   I helped found and remain on the board at CASA MN and wrote the book INVISIBLE CHILDREN on this topic in 2005.

Nothing in this letter is meant to reflect badly on adoptive or foster families, GALs/social workers, the courts/police/juvenile justice, educators, task force members, or others directly involved in trying to help children in need of protection.  We are doing what we can with the training, resources, and understanding we have.

This letter is intended to bring to your attention the depth and scope of the problems and the high level failures that cause the terrible data and Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language for describing child protection in MN.  I have inserted a few personal CASA stories (MT) to exhibit specific system faults that need addressing by your task force. Read the rest of this entry →

7$ Child Daycare? (hint – gotta go north)

November 20, 2014 in education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

my best sunset everIt’s over now, but for years, universal child daycare has been the rule (at $7.30) in Quebec.

I just can’t help pointing out that some of our neighbors to the North feel very strongly that children’s daycare is worth government subsidy.  $75,000 is the low income threshold and $200,000 is the high income threshold.

True, the politics of public service have beat up the program and $20 is becoming the new norm.  

Keep in mind that over time, children in quality day care thrive, learn important stuff, and perhaps more importantly, don’t smoke crack cocaine with their out of jail uncle while mom works.

The U.S. expels more children from daycare than any other nation (and has for some time).  It’s an issue that bodes badly for the poor educators that later serve these children in public schools and goes a very long way in explaining America’s suffering graduation rates, high crime, and prison populations.

If we valued children half as much as we claim to, there would not be 8000+ children on waiting lists in MN for subsidized daycare.

Do you know who your state legislator is?  This will not change until some of us make that call.  Share this widely.

 Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift



5 Worst States For Child Homelessness (35% of Mississippi Children Are Impoverished)

November 18, 2014 in Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

Roses on WallFrom the National Center On Family Homelessness;

California has over 500,000 children children lacking stable housing.

35% of Mississippi’s children live in poverty.

Arkansas, Alabama, & New Mexico have the next highest rates of child poverty and homelessness in the nation.

Homelessness leads to mental health issues, crime, school problems (low performance and graduation rates).  Children in poverty with poor living conditions suffer from multiple stresses that last a lifetime.

No one wins when children that can’t cope with their surroundings become adults that can’t cope with their surroundings.  We all benefit when children can become productive members of the community leading healthy lives.  Read the report here.

Read the rest of this entry →

We’re Number One (America leads the world in the wrong things)

November 17, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

rabbit yawningAmong the industrialized nations, we are now number one in child homelessness;

one in thirty kids – 2.5 million American children, experienced homelessness last year.

Many states don’t offer children insurance, Crisis nurseries, daycare, prenatal care, or healthcare – and parental leave for new babies is off the table in half the nation.

The U.S is well known for having the highest child poverty rates, STD rates, juvenile crime and preteen pregnancy rates among the advanced nations.

States that don’t offer prenatal care, daycare, insurance, or housing for 2 year olds cost themselves great sums in the long run; crime, prisons, and dysfunctional adults – the opposite of taxpaying, productive citizens. are very expensive.

I maintain that those states are filled with legislators that can’t add.  If they could, they would see the terrific long term costs unhealthy children without coping skills create within their communities in crime, prisons, health care and extreme costs to schools and social services in their communities (and this makes for really unhappy/unsafe neighborhoods).

Unhealthy and unprepared children explain our why our schools repeatedly rank at or near the bottom with reading, math, science, history test scores and our graduation rates remain among the lowest of the industrialized nations.

Today’s Star Tribune article by Daniel Heimpel on creating an Office Of Child Protection is a great idea but long term probabilities for its success are not very good.

Children can’t vote and adults are mostly given to fist shaking and blaming if reminded of institutional failures when a child is found in a dumpster or dead after fifteen reports of child abuse.

States will fight hard for their rights to not provide insurance, prenatal care, or child protection and make it sound like they are “saving families” in the process.

A child protection Czar would be busy 24 / 7 fighting state by state with Louisiana, Mexico, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and a handful of others that are really committed to policies of ignoring poor families, child death, child mortality, child poverty, child health, and uninsured children.

I like the idea of protecting children and creating a child protection Czar, but Hercules died a very long time ago and I don’t know who else could fight that fight.

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

November 15, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Foster Care, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

coneflowersFor 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.

What follows are my observations on each article and a clickable list of everything to date (that I could find) written by Brandon Stahl on child protection and child abuse.

Save  and Share this page with your friends, social workers, educators, adoptive and foster families, and others that work with at risk youth.

KARA has interviewed Brandon for our documentary project and will post pieces of that video interview as soon as it is edited.

*Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” remark about the public policies that led to the death of Eric Dean and Judge Ranum’s “sickened” by abuse program’s failures comment to name a few.

Here are Brandon’s Articles to date (compiled for easy access)

Read the rest of this entry →

Child Abuse Stories Across the Nation

November 10, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen


DE: State Investigated Slain Del. Girl’s Mom 4 Times
Asssociated Press – November 10, 2014
Child protection officials in Delaware closed four separate investigations into a mother now charged in the beating death of her 4-year-old daughter, closing all of them after ruling that repeated complaints of abuse and neglect were unsubstantiated.
MN: Lessons from child abuse deaths go unheeded in Minnesota (Opinion)
Minneapolis Star Tribune – November 09, 2014
A Star Tribune examination of state and county records shows little evidence that the mortality reviews are stopping child protection failures. The reviews often take years to complete – and sometimes do not occur at all. What’s more, findings from such reviews are frequently sealed off from public scrutiny, despite a federal law requiring more disclosure.



San Antonio Nov 7 2014 Captured fugitive Matthew Aranda sentenced in 3 year old Melody Velasquez death,

Bakersfield CA Nov 7 2014 No bail in foster child’s death in the killing of 3 year old Serenity Gandara

West Caln township PA, Nov 6 2014 3 year old Scotty McMillan hung up by feet, beaten & killed

Pittsburgh PA Nov 6 2014  five week old baby dead, two other children suffered abuse, Lincohn Levys charged with aggravated assault, Sheena Alston charged with child endangerment.

San Diego CA Nov 3 2014 Daycare provider held on 2M bail in 11 month old Louis Michael Oliver’s death.

TX: Texas Girl Was Taken Away From Parents Because They Smoked Pot, Only to Be Killed in Foster Care (Opinion)
Houston Press – November 06, 2014
While the idea of removing a toddler from her parents’ care not for abuse, but for simple marijuana use, is puzzling at best, what’s even more disconcerting is that the same rules didn’t apply to her foster family. Read the rest of this entry →

Elephant In The Room (Mitch Pearlstein today Star Tribune)

November 8, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, education, Foster Care, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

Pensive Parakeet

Mitch Pearstein has some stunning and relevant facts and useful thoughts in his Elephant In The Room article (Star Tribune 11.8.2014.

That 2% of non-parental caregivers are responsible for half of all reports of child abuse by non-parents, points a pretty big finger as the screaming need for subsidized daycare (that we used to have in this state) and other family friendly policies.  That so many single parents can’t afford quality day care and work for companies without family friendly policies leaves few choices for poor families.

As a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem lobbying for the removal of children from toxic homes, I saw many examples of children left in the care of drunk/drugged uncles and boyfriends while a poverty or near poverty parental caregiver went to work each day.  These children are many times more likely to be abused (and killed) than other children.

Life is better for children in “higher income two person households” and that to ”investigate and punish” moms and dads that molest and torture their children resonates with folks but doesn’t fix the issue (the fact that a great many families can’t afford quality daycare seems lost on Mitch & far too many others). Read the rest of this entry →

Brandon Stahl Sets A Precedent For Excellence In Reporting (share this with your local newspaper – it could be repeatable & help children)

November 6, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

20130107-can-mozart-boost-brainpowerThe issues of child abuse and child protection services are complicated and not well understood by the general public, state legislators, or even the people delivering the services.  In the almost twenty years I’ve spent as a volunteer in the system (CASA guardian ad-Litem), I’ve not witnessed a reporter going as deep into the heart of a child protection story until reading Brandon Stahl’s series in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

When a baby is found in a dumpster or some other horrific suffering of a four year old makes the paper, an article of outrage leaves the reader hating and blaming a person or institutional failure.  Because it takes a sustained and painful effort to take a deeper look into the depth and scope of the nightmarish conditions that preceded the great sadness of a child’s suffering and death at the hands of a caregiver, the reporting almost always stops right here.

Thirty years ago in White Bear Lake MN (near my home), Lois Jergens went on to adopt five more children after murdering 4 year old Dennis Jergens.  None of the approximately fifty children I lobbied to be removed from their homes because of torture, sex abuse, or neglect were ever known to anyone outside the child protection system.  The absence of information about abused and neglected children is directly related to our high crime rates, full prisons, troubled schools, and unsafe neighborhoods.  We would all benefit by knowing the trauma of ground truth – then we could face it and deal with it.  It would be better for us and better for children.

Today, Brandon Stahl is peeling back the layers of this complicated institution of child protection.  So few people know anything substantive about it and even the people running it can be so wrong so often (as in passing laws about not using past history of abuse in current investigations or family assessments instead of child protection in high risk cases).

In our interview with Brandon Stahl, he was clear about just how hard it is to pry information out of institutions that either have done a very bad job of gathering and keeping it, or simply don’t want it known.  He spoke of the substantial financial investment his newspaper had to make in order to get the basic information about the murder of four year old Eric Dean by his step-mother after fifteen reports of child abuse by mandated reporters.

The lack of transparency and deliberate obfuscation of public information by those institutions makes the work of a Brandon Stahl incredibly difficult.  A lesser reporter might have given up – which probably explains the great dearth of information surrounding the millions of children beaten, tortured, molested and murdered in this nation each year (and my fifty GAL children).

I am so grateful that Brandon Stahl’s articles have captured Governor Dayton’s attention and forced the creation of this task force to investigate the “Colossal Failure” (the Governor’s own words) of child protection that led to the tortured death of helpless little Eric Dean.

My greatest fear is that our trouble institutions out of misunderstanding or fear of looking bad, will have a loud and persuasive voice on the panel and successfully defend ineffective or awful policies and procedures that harm at risk children.

Let’s protect children, not institutions.

KARA’s mission is to raise awareness within our village about child abuse and child protection.  It is up to each one of us (the villagers) to work together, to support and improve our institutions, and protect every child in MN

Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift

Help KARA break through the veil of invisibility that surrounds abused children today and create public awareness and outrage at what is happening to so many of our at risk youth. 

Follow us on Twitter  Share This Blog – Submit your comments, stories and child protection news.

Feel free to use this information to start conversations and give voice to the millions of abused and neglected children that otherwise remain voiceless and invisible.







Child Protection News – Your State Here (Texas and Florida are tied once more)

October 19, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

oldships at harborPlease send KARA clips from your local news regarding child protection information in your state and please let me know if you are reading this from outside the U.S. and would like to see more news about child abuse and child protection issues from your community.


US: Will Supreme Court muzzle teachers in child abuse trials? (Commentary)
Staten Island Advance – October 06, 2014
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal arising out of Ohio which, depending on how it’s resolved, could eliminate a critically important method of proving child abuse.
US: Incarceration plays a major role in health and health disparities in the United States Read the rest of this entry →


October 19, 2014 in CASA, David Strand, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

Roses on WallThe most disturbing realization from my interview with David Strand is the difference between America’s loud and persistent rhetoric about how “valuable” our children are and how our public policies actually treat youth.

We have the highest rate of child poverty among the industrialized nations, prosecute 25% of our youth in adult courts (we just recently quit executing juveniles), and have no meaningful public policy for child safety outside of the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” (which allows a judge to remove a child when his/her life is endangered by their caregivers).  Minnesota made it law that prior reports of child abuse are not to be used in evaluating new reports of child abuse (and four MN counties screen out 90% of child abuse reports).

If you want to know how other industrialized nations value children, ask David Strand.  David is a sophisticated businessman that helped form public policy for children over the ten years he lived and worked in Europe.  When he returned to the U.S. he wrote an in depth evaluation of the vast difference in public policy towards children between the U.S. and the other 23 advanced nations that we had historically compared ourselves to.  His book, NATION OUT OF STEP  clearly articulates the falling quality of life measurements from failed or non existent public policies that determine how AMERICA treats its children.

If America wants its schools to compete, prisons and crime to shrink, and build a healthier and more capable citizenry, David makes clear that none of this can happen without functioning public policies that address the safety and well-being of children.

Strand spent time as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem and became familiar with the depth and scope of the problems facing at risk children in his home state (MN).  His observations about just how out of whack our public policies are towards children and young families go a long way towards explaining why we have ten times the crime and ten times the prison populations of most other advanced nations.  David knows Art Rolnick and Art’s work at the Federal Reserve bank in 2003 defining the high rate of return on investments in programs that promote healthy children.

Perhaps the most painful recognition I came away from this ninety minute interview that it is common for other industrialized nations to use America as an example of what not to do.  They don’t want bigger prison systems, more crime and failing schools and they will vote for whatever it takes to not replicate our failures.

We the American public, on the other hand, have refused to recognize that what the other industrialized nations have employed is in fact working to create happier, safer, and healthier communities (as measured by all the quality of life indices that make up a functioning society).  Support for early childhood programs, crisis nurseries, family leave (for fathers too), and subsidized day care go a long way towards building families and healthy children.

While prenatal care, family leave, subsidized day care, and a genuine understanding of children’s mental health and “ready to learn” issues are costly, they return on these investments is exponentially higher in the form of productive citizens and a better quality of life for all members of those societies.  Our video of this interview will follow once it is edited.

For now, watch our 2 minute KARA / TPT movie trailer & support our documentary project here




“Kids Are Slowly Being Neglected To Death” – Hennepin County Judge Jane Ranum (Thank You from the children in my caseload)

October 14, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen


Thank You Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl

Thank You Pioneer Press reporter Ruben Rosario

Thank You former MN Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz for joining the task force and your years of speaking out about the serious failures within our child protection system.

Thank You Governor Mark Dayton for using the long overdue “colossal failure” language to describe an overburdened, misunderstood, and under-supported child protection system and creating the investigative task force to make it work better for children.

From the fifty children in my CASA guardian ad-Litem caseload, Thank You.

You have given voice to the tragic failure of child protection that allows four year olds to die tortured deaths after 10, 20, 30 reports of child abuse to state agencies.

Without you, these children have no voice;

Not in the homes they are raised in,

Not in the courts that investigate their families,

Not in the media or the state legislature (they can’t write and don’t vote).

These children are silent and invisible without you.

We the public find child abuse uncomfortable and refuse to pay attention until a baby is found in a dumpster and then we wring our collective hands about ‘those awful people’ and work to punish a social worker and send the parental offender to prison.

That the parent was a fourth generation abused preteen mother with serious mental health issues has little significance to us.  Justice must be served.

None of the fifty children I lobbied to remove from their toxic homes ever made the newspaper.

Not the baby with the bottom half of her body burned off, the boy who was tied to a bed, beaten, starved, and sexually abused for four years, or the more than ten other very young children who were also sexually abused – 2,3, 4, and 7 and 9.

Most of these children remained in their homes suffering their abuse for years.

Most of these very young children were given psychotropic medications instead of useful mental health services and they never did receive the help they needed to recover from the violence that had been done to them as children.

Most of my guardian ad-Litem kids did not go on to lead productive lives.

Today, seven percent of MN child abuse cases are investigated.  Only the very worst of the very worst cases ever make it into child protective services.  Minnesota’s family assessment process does not even ask the question “if” the child was abused.  We don’t want to know.  The system is underfunded, undertrained, and under – resourced and can’t handle what it works with today.

Quote from Erin Sullivan Sutton (Assistant Commissioner from children and family services);

“It’s a mistake to think child protection was a success before the advent of family assessment”.

I think this is an understatement, but it does draw our attention to the depth and scope of the problem.

It is against Minnesota law to use prior reported cases of child abuse within a family to determine if the family is torturing their children.  Legislators that defend this practice have not thought it through.  This  was after all a death sentence for Eric Dean, Dennis Jergens, Desi Irving, Lakesha Victor, and over twenty five other children who were killed while well known to child protective services (and what about the hundreds of other children that remained in violent, dangerous and neglectful homes).

The trauma’s suffered by abused and neglected children last a lifetime and go a long way towards explaining the mental health issues leading to the violence, crime, prisons, failed schools, and unsafe streets in our communities.

Children deserve better.

Children should have the right to a safe home and certainly not to die when the community has been told again and again and again about their abuse.

Help KARA bring public attention to abused and neglected children through our Public Television Partnership with TPT TV


TPT/KARA Movie Trailer (2 minutes)

October 3, 2014 in Grandparents & Kinship, Guardian ad-Litem, KARA Events, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources by Mike Tikkanen

children down hill having fun          Friends of KARA,

watch our 2 minute movie trailer and share it with your friends, 2 minute KARA/TPT television trailer

Support KARA’s efforts to tell the story of child abuse in our community (donate)

Children and Youth, Front and Center (great child protection online resource)

October 2, 2014 in Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

20130107-can-mozart-boost-brainpowerFor readers looking to broaden your view of child protection in America, I recommend this website;

It covers the national debate on child protection issues in an accurate and easy to read manner.






For The Record (Toni Carter’s Comments on the Death Of Eric Dean + my response)

September 29, 2014 in Child Death, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

beautiful MN lake sceneFriends,  this conversation at the Star Tribune draws attention to the cold hard reality that children have no voice in the homes they are raised in, child protection, or the legislature (they can’t vote) and without reporters like Brandon Stahl and Ruben Rosario, not much attention is given to the sadness and terror abused and neglected children live with every day.

star tribune April 25th 2014    Read the rest of this entry →

Thank You Ruben Rosario

September 25, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

my best sunset everIn 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.  6 million children are reported to child protection in America each year (58,000 annually).  Four counties in MN screen out 90% of all child abuse cases, our state average is to screen out almost 70% of all cases.

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.

Help KARA change this.   KARA TV interview at Catherine’s Crossings.  WCCO radio interview   (12 minutes)

 Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift

Help KARA break through the veil of invisibility that surrounds abused children today and create public awareness and outrage at what is happening to so many of our at risk youth. 

Read the rest of this entry →

Child Protection News (gathered nationally – find your state here)

September 24, 2014 in Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

babies best ever Child Welfare in the News is distributed at no charge by Child Welfare Information Gateway (, a service of the Children’s Bureau/ACF/HHS ( It features news stories on topics of interest to child welfare and related professionals. Inclusion does not imply endorsement of any view expressed in an article, and opinions or views do not reflect those of Child Welfare Information Gateway, the Children’s Bureau, or staff. Other free subscriptions from Child Welfare Information Gateway are available at:

The following are collected from September 9th to today;

CA: Drugging Our Kids

San Jose Mercury News – September 20, 2014
Children in California’s foster care system are prescribed unproven, risky medications at alarming rates.

FL: DCF was alerted 2 weeks before deadly rampage
Bradenton Herald – September 22, 2014
Two weeks before Don Charles Spirit annihilated his family, Florida child protection investigators were told that his grandchildren were surrounded by drug abusers – living with a grandfather whose history included the accidental killing of his son, and the physical abuse of his daughter and grandkids.

MN: Gov. Dayton orders changes to Minnesota’s child protection programs
Northland’s News Center – September 22, 2014
Governor Mark Dayton ordered the Department of Human Services Monday, to take a closer look at how child abuse cases are investigated. Also: Abuse case drives Dayton to order county child welfare reviews (Includes audio): Read the rest of this entry →

It’s Worse In Texas

September 23, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

default-headerMinnesota is reacting to a very rare and thorough investigation of abused children (thank you Brandon Stahl).

This is the first time in 30 years (since three year old Dennis Jergens tortured murder) that well written and multiple child abuse stories from our cities major media are forcing our community to consider how shallow our commitment to at risk children is.

As a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, I worked with dozens of children with toxic and painful home lives very much like Eric Dean’s home.  None of my caseload children ever made the paper - not the girl who had the bottom half of her body scalded off, not the boy sexually abused, tied to a bed & left alone for days, starved and beaten for four years, not the suicidal four year old, the prostituted seven year old, or the small boy who walked back home (35 miles) from Cambridge on a ten degree night in a T shirt because he was thrown out of a group home as punishment for his mental health problems.  Their stories, and a million others every year, are never in the newspaper, never told on TV or radio, and rarely spoken of by the people that know them.

These are awful and uncomfortable stories that we would rather not speak of and the children themselves rarely know just how wrong what has happened to them is.  Nor do they know the life long traumatizing damage that has been done to them.

But I know.

I also know, that until the rest of the community cares enough about the horrific damage done to thousands of abused children every week (and not just the tortured dead children that make the newspaper) to have in place a child protection system that identifies and deals with children needing services, reporting, and policies to keep them safe, our prisons will remain full, our schools to fail, our communities unsafe, and children will be traumatized in their homes on a daily basis.

Without Brandon Stahl’s Star Tribune reports, Governor Dayton would not have ordered a joint county-state investigation of Minnesota’s child protection services and Adrian Peterson’s son being beaten with a stick and forced to eat leaves would not have been a news item any more than the guardian ad-Litem cases I have written about in this article and Adrian would still be playing football as a star for the Vikings and his forty pound son would be hit again and again by a 240 pound professional athlete.

What follows is a brief report on the abused and neglected children tortured or murdered in Texas recently.  Brandon, would you consider a trip to Texas to save those children?

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift

Help KARA break through the veil of invisibility that surrounds abused children today and create public awareness and outrage at what is happening to so many of our at risk youth. 

Read the rest of this entry →

Thank You Governor Dayton (shining a light on Minnesota’s Child Protection system)

September 22, 2014 in Child Death, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

mn panorama leaves turned 2It took real courage for Minnesota’s Governor to use the phrase “Colossal Failure” when describing the role child protective services played in the tortured death of four year old Eric Dean.  The politics of child protection are not favorable to politicians.

Plenty of Governors would have let the story die down without making too much fuss about it.  For instance, prior MN Governor Pawlenty stated that “Children that are the victims of failed personal responsibility are not my problem, nor are they the problem of the state of MN” &  Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana removed the funding that had been set aside for families adopting special needs children (after 500 adoptions had been completed – counting on that financial assistance for help with the children’s transportation, education, and health care).

After all, children can’t vote and there is no real political price to pay when bad things happen to them (like the screening out of 70 to 90% of child abuse reports, disappearance of subsidized daycare, under funding of child protective services (MN is 47th among the states in funding children in child protective services), or incarcerating juveniles as adults to name just a few).  The only CP children that make the paper are those that die alarming deaths or are children of celebrities.  As a guardian ad-Litem, I have 50 stories way more awful than the violence suffered by Adrian Peterson’s child and not one of them ever made the paper.

There will be a review of the state’s child protection policies.  Let’s hope they discover that investigating child abuse reports by mandated reporters is important and that keeping records of child abuse claims allows CP workers to know the history of troubled families, and that public scrutiny of heretofore hidden public information is not only wrong (and against federal laws), it has consequences.

What the public does not know hurts children.  Without this review, there would be no further conversation.  Without the conversation, nothing will change.  6 million children are reported abused in the U.S. each year.  58,000 in MN.  They need our awareness, understanding, and some empathy.

It is up to us, the voting public, to vote for the people, policies, and programs that will benefit children that so desperately need out attention and understanding.

Help KARA change this.   KARA TV interview at Catherine’s Crossings.  WCCO radio interview   (12 minutes)

 Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift

Help KARA break through the veil of invisibility that surrounds abused children today and create public awareness and outrage at what is happening to so many of our at risk youth. 

Follow us on Twitter  Share This Blog – Submit your comments, stories and child protection news Read the rest of this entry →

Privatized Juvenile Prisons – Kids For Cash The Movie (watch the trailer)

September 17, 2014 in Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States by Mike Tikkanen

Roses on WallKIds For Cash the movie is a documentary about two Pennsylvania Judges (Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan) who were imprisoned for 40 years because they sentenced thousands of innocent juveniles (some as young as ten years old) to prison for 2.5 million dollars in kickbacks.

Judge Ciavarella received a 28 year sentence, and Conahan is awaiting sentencing)

This movie captures the devastating impact imprisonment has on youth and the dangers of not policing privatized facilities.  It seems wrong to me that the prison owners who paid the illegal kickbacks are not being sentenced along with the judges.  Thousands of lives were ruined and there is no getting back a childhood or erasing the damage done to the poor children ruined by this monstrous institutional failure.

Watch the trailer here.


 Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Kids At Risk Action talk on child protection in America (invite KARA to speak at your conference – )

Supoort KARA’s TPT Documentary Project with your gift

Help KARA break through the veil of invisibility that surrounds abused children today and create public awareness and outrage at what is happening to so many of our at risk youth. 

Follow us on Twitter  Share This Blog 



Read the rest of this entry →

Eric Dean Is One Of Many (child protection is failing children in most states)

September 14, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

image001The language in today’s Star Tribune describing the bloody whipping of Viking’s star Adrian Peterson’s four year old boy *(Tyrese Robert Ruffin) demonstrates the lengths my community will go to to protect the rights of 250 pound men to brutalize their 45 pound four year old children.  MN Vikings Adrian Peterson beat his son repeatedly with a stick and had used belts to beat him on numerous other occasions (the child’s words in the Houston police report).

Beaten savagely by a 240 pound professional athlete, this very young child had leaves stuffed into his mouth and suffered open wounds on his back and buttocks, and a bruised penis.  He still had welts a week after the beating.

The Star Tribune today ran two articles about this poor traumatized boy with “not reasonable” and “reactions dwell on line between discipline & abuse” in the titles.  Nowhere in the articles is child protection mentioned.  It is mostly a discussion about football.

Adrian’s defense was that his father beat him the same way.  For the religious among us, “visiting the iniquity (horrors) of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

or the much easier to remember, “like father, like son”.

None of this will help Tyrese become a normal, coping child and there is reason to believe that the he suffers from some behavioral problems already (I would argue a result of the traumas inflicted upon him by his monster of a father).

If you search this blog by, “the states”, you will find that children throughout America live in danger of violence and death with not enough help from their state, county, or federal government.  They only get help from the media when they die and someone needs to go to jail.

The only law that protects children at a federal level is the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” which allows a judge to remove a child whose life is endangered by a a caregiver.  Judges have great leeway in determining what  “imminent harm” means.  In MN it means that 80% of children will be abused again while under court supervision and that 29% of abused children will be sent back to the abusive conditions they were rescued from,

To be fair, most states have underfunded courts and child protection systems.  We as a people, tend instead to deny resources and blame the social worker when a baby is found in a dumpster – instead of funding programs that might help children.

Instead of the critical thinking which would draw our attention to the vast numbers of children reported abused each year (six million), we seem to prefer an absence of awareness to children’s issues.

Four year old Eric Dean’s recent tortured murder brought about the usual wringing of hands, blaming, and pontification but will things change?

Crisis nurseries, subsidized day care, mental health care, child protection standards for counties to follow, along with reporting and accountability, would actually make a difference in the lives of abused and neglected children.  Thank you Governor Dayton for pointing out the “colossal failure” of the child protection system in MN.  It really could use our support.

Looking at today’s paper, it appears our community is more inclined to argue about how many times or how hard you can hit your child because “you have the right to”.  Kansas recently proposed a law allowing caregivers (all caregivers including coaches, teachers, and just about anyone in charge of a child) to hit a child up to ten times and leave bruises and bloody noses.

What’s the difference between discipline and abuse?  Trauma.  And it lasts forever.

From today’s Houston newspaper, “As of publication, Peterson is not under arrest and is expected to play for the Vikings this weekend when they host the Patriots. (UPDATE: Shortly after publication of this story the Vikings deactivated Peterson for Sunday’s game against the Patriots.)”

 Support KARA’s public television documentary project to make life better for abused and neglected children

 *note about Tyrese name not appearing anywhere in the approximately 8000 words printed in the Star Tribune today indicates the boys lack of importance to the story.  Every lawyer’s name got ink, as did multiple football celebrities and experts from a number of disciplines.  

Admitting I Have Problem Is The Hardest Part (thank you Brandon Stahl for identifying the problem)

September 11, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States, Wonderful People by Mike Tikkanen

babies best everBrandon Stahl’s reporting has been the best thing to happen for Minnesota’s abused and neglected children in my lifetime.

As a longtime volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, I have seen an underfunded and not too healthy child protection system become sclerotic, insular, and unresponsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children.

The slow tortured death of Eric Dean was only reported in a newspaper because he died.  Had he lived, we would not know about it.  I have children in my CASA guardian ad-Litem caseload that suffered just like Eric, and no one knows about their suffering but me (and people that read my words).

Over the past twenty years, I have watched underfunded, under-trained, under-resourced child protection workers (including judges, educators, day care and health providers, foster and adoptive families, try to work with cold and unresponsive systems that are now creating exactly what they were designed to stop.

I have seen lives of very young children destroyed forever because easily available information was ignored.  Plenty of children in Minnesota have had Eric Dean type torture that no one knows about (because our systems are overwhelmed and unresponsive).

Governor Dayton’s proposed investigation should uncover the sad truth that no child protection information gets public attention unless a child has died violently.

The fact that most counties don’t keep past reports of screened out cases and are prohibited from considering past reports when evaluating new charges of child abuse should be seen for the awful impact it is having on children living in toxic homes (it leaves children in homes where they are molested, neglected, tortured, and murdered).

That Minnesota Counties don’t report death and near death of children as required by Federal Law is misfeasance, nonfeasance, or malfeasance and should be viewed as a crime worth punishment.

In a nation with the largest annual income on the planet (as measured by gross domestic product), that we don’t support the people, programs, and policies that could at least protect the Eric Dean’s living among us, is a sad reflection on the values we hold as citizens, neighbors, and voters.

8319 (families on a waiting list for subsidized day care in MN)

4 (average times a child is placed in child protection)

47th (Ranking of MN for amount spent on children in child protection)

80% (percentage of children abused again while under court supervision)

29% (percentage of children sent back to the abusive conditions they were rescued from)

60% (percentage of child abuse calls screened out overall in MN 3rd highest in the nation)

90% (percentage of child abuse calls screened out by Red Lake, Houston, LeSeur, & Nicollet Counties)

What can you do?

Become a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem and work for the best interest of a child in your county Phone: (612) 728-5930

Call your state representative (Senator, Governor, other people of influence) and send them this article

Vote for child friendly legislation

Quit the destructive blaming and finger pointing that has brought us to this sad state and be concerned and constructive in your thoughts and deeds.

Support KARA’s MN public TV documentary project Read the rest of this entry →

WCCO / KARA Radio Interview (Jordana Green Show)

September 9, 2014 in Child Death, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

parasailingOur most recent radio interview; (ten minutes)

September 9th live WCCO radio interview with Jordana Green (ten minutes)

A lively discussion of the critical issues facing abused and neglected children and what we can make life better for them.

Support KARA’s MN Public Television documentary project on this topic

Changing A Bad Law (thank you Brandon Stahl & Star Tribune)

September 9, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

coyote-yellowstone_56393_600x450Minnesota’s abused and neglected children finally catch a break.  Brandon Stahl’s superb reporting on the tortured death of 4-year old Eric Dean after fifteen ignored reports finally reached the State’s top child protection people (Erin Sullivan Sutton) and is trickling down to the legislators that voted to eliminate what was at the time already weak tracking, reporting, and responding to of child abuse complaints by counties.

While this is great news for the 68,000 children that are reported as abused in MN each year, it will not restore the millions of dollars that have been cut from County budgets for child protection services that would allow counties to:

Provide the public access to a transparent record keeping and tracking that will allow transparency that the rest of us might monitor how reports of abuse are responded to across the state,

Create consistent standards for screening in cases from county to county (today, four MN counties screen out 90% of child abuse reports)

Fix the damage done already to the thousands of MN children that have been screened out and are living in horrific circumstances,

It is left to be seen if the legislative turnaround will impact the 29% of abused children in the system that today are sent back to abusive homes,

Or our state ranking as 47th in the U.S. on the amount it spends on children in child protection,

Or that 80% of Minnesota’s abused children are abused again while under court supervision,

It will also not shrink case loads, create more crisis nurseries, shrink the waiting list for subsidized day care (over 8000), or make the child protection system more child and family friendly.

The biggest issue might be that these terrified and tortured children have no control or voice in their own homes, no voice or lobby at the statehouse to make laws to protect them, no voice (except for Brandon Stahl) in the media, and the only federal law that protects children in America is the “imminent harm doctrine” that forbids people from killing their children, which is interpreted by different courts in very different ways.

These issues are beyond the powers of the children being affected and are up to us the adults who will give voice to the tragic circumstances abused and neglected children live through every day of their young lives.

Support KARA’s MN Public Television Documentary Project on this topic

Read the rest of this entry →

Brandon Stahl Reports (reporting on the reporter)

September 8, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen



This is the first time in my memory that a key reporter (Brandon Stahl) from a major newspaper (Star Tribune) has taken the time and energy to thoroughly investigate child abuse.  The greatest sadness in all this may be that a baby must die for the public to care enough to read about it.  As a volunteer guardian ad-Litem and CASAMN board member, I’ve come to know many children that have lived horrific lives and some that have tried to escape by killing themselves (one four year old, and a seven year old foster boy that hung himself and left a note).


Lois Jurgens tortured and killed her three year old adopted son Dennis Jergens over time and in a most brutal fashion.  She was the adoptive mother of six children and she tortured them all over long periods of time.  She was eventually convicted and sentenced for murder – but not before adopting five other children (after Dennis’s was tortured to death).

Prior to the adoption of Dennis, Lois had been hospitalized three times for mental illness and there were Mayo Clinic psychiatrist records strongly recommending against Lois becoming an adoptive parent because she was a potential paranoid schizophrenic.

She had been turned down by a number of Catholic adoption agencies, but Ramsey County (like many counties) was having trouble finding adoptive homes for abandoned and abused children.  Within a year of the adoption, Dennis was admitted to the Ramsey County hospital with burns on his penis and bruises all over his two year old body.

Five years after Dennis’ death, Lois and her husband moved to Kentucky and adopted five more children (states still don’t share information in many cases).

Brandon Stahl has written clearly and accurately about four year old Eric Dean’s short tortured life and the institutional failures that lead to his death.  How fifteen reports were made to the under–trained/understaffed/under-resourced county workers ignored all of them.

There will be blaming and hand-wringing by the county administrators until this story goes away, and then we can expect a long silence until the next horrific and completely avoidable child death occurs in our state.

There are four counties in MN that screen out 90% of child abuse cases and the rest of the state screens out 71%.

In my own child protection volunteer work, the state of Wisconsin had a court order forbidding a man to be around young boys because of what he did to them.

This man had spent 2/3 of his adult life in prison for crimes he had committed upon young boys when he was given custody of his four year old son.  That boy, his son, was tied to a bed and left alone for days at a time without food or water, sexually abused, and beaten from head to toe.  When I met this boy, his whole body was covered with bruises (he was seven years old).

This boy’s four year, tortured, near death experience was the direct result of a county not having the most simple safeguards in place.

The court order was a public document, the prison record for crimes against children were available in any background check – how much more blatant could this oversight have been?

I have come to believe that the fault lies in our aversion to the topic and the absence of discussion about child abuse that has made it so prolific in our nation.  Six million children are now reported annually in this nation and very few of those reports are responded to and fewer still are tracked and monitored.

There is very little difference in the circumstances that killed Dennis Jergens, and the circumstances that almost killed my guardian ad-Litem case child, and now, those circumstances have killed Eric Dean.

The horror of abusive child death are the sign of a damaged social safety net.  If our young and most vulnerable can’t be looked after, we are surely a misguided community.

We also know that the long lasting results of child abuse will fill our prisons, damage out education system, and have made life unsafe and unhappy in many of our communities.


Thank you Brandon Stahl for your excellent work.  Please continue until a few more of us wake up to help these children from our institutional neglect and put in place safeguards that will improve the lives of abused and neglected children.

Support KARA’s TPT documentary project to make life better for abused and neglected children

Read the rest of this entry →

Another Avoidable Child Death

September 5, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

mararishi guatemala thanksgivingGordon Collins-Faunce, a father with PTSD & related psychotropic medications, and a history of physical and sexual abuse growing up in his own foster family, hurled his two-month old son into a chair.  Ethan Henderson died three days later.  Child Protective services had been alerted but deemed the boy was safe.  While it is easy to blame the workers, it solves nothing without attention to the systems, resources and procedures that will prevent the next Ethan Henderson from death or terrible injury in an abusive family home.   Support KARA’s tpt Television documentary about child abuse Read the rest of this entry →

Why Are So Many Six Year Olds On Prozac?

September 2, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, education, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

image001Hennepin 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.

I believe that not tracking this data is wrong.  It is only by tracking and reporting how many six year old children are being forced to use psychotropics will the larger community begin to understand the depth and scope of the problem these children have with mental health issues.

In my experience as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, these children are medicated so they will be docile and easier to manage.  Foster children are often treated with anti-psychotics  even though their mental problems are the result of trauma caused by abuse and neglect and not the bipolar disorders and schizophrenia these drugs were designed to treat.

Rather than providing mental health services that could help traumatized children learn and gain the coping skills they need to live, we just find it cheaper and less trouble to proscribe Ritalin, Prozac, antidepressants, and other mind numbing drugs that often come with serious side effects. Read the rest of this entry →

Remarkable Reporting; Brandon Stahl – Star Tribune & Tragic Abusive Death Of Eric Dean

August 31, 2014 in CASA, Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

coneflowersThank you Star Tribune and Brandon Stahl for your in depth reporting on the awful state of child protection in Pope County MN.

A few months ago Brandon Stahl presented Star Tribune readers with the sad fact that four Minnesota counties screen out 90% of child abuse calls.  Today, you have shown us how a child can be reported to Child Protection Services fifteen times with egg sized lumps, multiple bite marks, broken arm,  swollen cheeks, black eye, facial scabs and puncture wounds and have those reports screened out as unimportant fourteen times.

Eric’s death was as violent and tortured as his life was.  Eric’s day care providers tried again and again to report to Pope County Child Protection the bleeding and bruises that had been visited on a helpless child but even these mandated reporters finally gave up when they realized that the County had no intention of taking any action to save this child.

This story has been repeated 54 times in Minnesota since 2005 (children that have been murdered by their caregivers after being reported to child protection).

29% of abused MN children are sent back into the abusive conditions they were rescued from.

MN now ranks 47th among the states on the amount it spends on children in child protection

30% of Minnesota families reported for abuse receive services

The waiting list for subsidized daycare in MN is over 8000 names long (people just quit signing up)

80% of Minnesota’s abused children are abused again while under court supervision (this data from U of M CURA Reporter Summer Fall 2013).

For all the talk about how precious children are, some Minnesota children are more precious than others.  This is how Minnesotans value other people’s children.

As a longtime CASA guardian ad-Litem, I have seen horrific things done to very young children and feel compelled to repeat their stories.  We need to have this conversation if anything is going to change.

I know what abuse and violence does to children – and the effects of abuse and violence are with that child forever.

These terrified and tortured children have no rights, no lobby to be heard at the State House, and with no CASA guardian ad-Litem, no voice to describe what it’s like to be tortured to death as a three year old in your own home.

Think about just how lucky you were to be born into a family that loved you (or at least didn’t beat, neglect, or molest you).

Minnesota’s under-funding of programs that could provide reporting and services to at risk children is a moral failure.  If it were not for Brandon Stahl’s reporting on Eric Dean’s very avoidable senseless death, just the few people who had him in their daycare center would know about this tragedy.  There is something amoral in community that allows three year old children to be tortured to death and then forgotten about.

At times like this, the path of least resistance is to hate and blame Pope County and their Child Protection Services.  I will argue that it is us, as a State and its voters, that have just not deemed these children important enough to make the reporting and investigation of child abuse a priority and mandate standards to insure that 3 year old children are not tortured to death in the presence of Child Protection Workers.

Support KARA’s TPT Documentary Partnership Project (pass this on to your friends)


Read the rest of this entry →

Guardian ad-Litem News

August 28, 2014 in CASA, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

casa_v_redblue_R_alt_rgb_normalThese are CASA guardian ad-Litem stories KARA has gathered from around the nation; Read the rest of this entry →

Almost Half The Children Dying From Abuse In Colorado Were In Or Known To Child Protection Workers (72 of 175)

August 26, 2014 in Child Death, Crime and Courts, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, Resources, The States by Mike Tikkanen

default-headerToday’s Denver Post Article reports a just completed state child protection workload study that indicates a need for 574 more child protection workers to keep abused and neglected children safe in the state (a 49% increase).   Of the 150 CP workers interviewed, 100 felt that their case load was unmanageable.

Only 25% of these workers had face to face contact with their caseload children on a monthly basis.  That’s pretty cold.  Monthly contact is not enough to start with.  The system can be so cold and removed and the family and child are so at risk.

There is currently a call for a Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman, who would investigate complaints within the child welfare system.  That would be a start towards recording and responding to the biggest problems faced by children, families, and the people trying to make the system work.

2 years ago the Post published a series about 175 Colorado children who died of abuse and neglect (72 of them known within the child protection system).  The video on this site makes a compelling argument for adequate reporting, more resources, better training for workers, and smaller caseloads – monthly visits are not enough.

Support KARA’s tpt television documentary project