Minnesota; Let Them Eat New Stadium

June 25, 2009 in Health and Mental Health, Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States

Thank you MN Catholic Conference (from which this is taken)

my note;
12 years watching abused and abandoned children struggle to make their way through a poorly resourced county system as a Hennepin County guardian ad-Litem makes it tough to witness the Governor’s defunding of programs that have kept them from the most basic services and abject poverty.

The Governor’s line-item veto of GAMC and proposed unallotments ignore the human dignity of our poorest and most vulnerable neighbors, and will cause significant harm to those among us who we are called to place first. And, in turn, it will further weaken our state’s continual pursuit of the common good. Though the Governor’s plan includes several harmful unallotments, our greatest concerns are with the following seven proposed unallotments:

1. Elimination of Emergency Assistance: On November 1, 2009, two of Minnesota’s three Emergency Assistance programs will end: Emergency General Assistance (EGA) and Emergency Minnesota Supplemental Assistance (EMSA). These two critical safety-net programs provide needed assistance to Minnesotans who cannot fully support themselves, usually due to illness or disability, and who are facing an emergency that threatens their health or safety. Oftentimes related to imminent eviction, foreclosure or utility shut-off, ignored emergencies place our already struggling neighbors on the edge of homelessness….

2. Elimination of GAMC Coverage on March 1, 2010: Health insurance for “the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick” will end four months earlier than expected. When the Governor line-item vetoed GAMC on May 14, the program was slated to end on July 1, 2010. However, under the executive power of unallotment, GAMC will instead end on March 1, 2010…. the Minnesota Legislature will have less than four weeks, after reconvening on February 4, 2010 to address the elimination of health care coverage for our 30,000 neighbors who are living at or below 75 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

3. Cutting Children & Community Services Grants: Children & Community Services Grants provide crucial funding for counties to purchase or provide social services for seniors, adults, children and families struggling with abuse and neglect, living with a disability, mental illness or chronic health condition, or living in poverty. Additionally, these grants provide services for: pregnant adolescents, adolescent parents and their children; adults who are vulnerable and in need of protection; people over the age of 60 who need help living independently; and people with developmental disabilities. The Governor proposes cutting Children & Community Services Grants by 25 percent during FY 2010, and by 33 percent during FY 2011.

These grants fund a variety of critical services: adoption, case management, counseling, foster care for adults and children, protective services for adults and children, residential treatment, services for people with developmental, emotional or physical disabilities, substance abuse counseling, transportation, and public guardianship.

As Pliny said 2500 years ago; “what you do to your children, they will do to your society”, or as former MN Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz said just a few years ago, “90 % of the youth in juvenile justice have come through child protection”. Nationally, over 50% of youth in juvenile justice have diagnosable mental illness, and fully half of that population have multiple and severe diagnosis (this goes along way in explaining why America’s schools and streets are troubled).

Minnesota’s governor’s won’t maintain bridges or people, and he thinks it economically sound policy in the face of disaster and double digit prison growth. He believes in God and stadiums, yet I know of no religion in the world that abandons the weakest and most vulnerable among us. I’m not against stadiums, I’m simply more pro children).

Support at risk children, start a KARA group in your community.

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May 13, 2009 in Events, Guardian ad-Litem, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

                On May 4, 2009 a small crowd of about 100 citizens – social workers, politicians, child advocates, and children – gathered on the lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol to bring attention to Minnesota’s “Forgotten Children.”  The 187 children placed in foster care each week in Minnesota all have unique circumstances but they all share one thing in common: They need advocacy in the legislature to address not only their current needs but the future issues they will face as they transition into adulthood.

                CASA Minnesota partnered with the Dr. Phil Foundation for Monday’s Rally to bring attention to foster children in Minnesota and draw attention to the need for more volunteer guardians ad litem, foster parents and adoptive families.  When a child in foster care turns 18, many of them lose the safety net of the system that was created to protect them.  Without services to help them achieve independence, many of these young adults get swallowed back into the system through a different avenue, quite often the adult corrections system. 

A diverse group of speakers brought attention to the issues facing foster children from a variety of perspectives.  Two young adults, members of Our Voices Matter, who have gone through the foster care system, shared their experience with the audience.  Genaysia Love is involved with Our Voices Matter, an organization that provides a platform for teenagers in foster care and those who have transitioned into adulthood to share their experiences and advocate for change.  Genaysia shared that “home” to her was multiple foster homes, shelter homes, hospitals, and even a youth detention facility when there wasn’t a “bed” available for her in a more suitable environment.  Genaysia, now a mother herself, never did find a permanent adoptive family. 

Like Genaysia, Tina Rosenthal was also a child in foster care.  Unlike Genaysia, Tina was adopted by a family before she “aged out” of the system.  Now a young adult and Miss Minnesota 2008, Tina has made it her mission to bring attention to the issues facing foster children.  She said that during her reign as Miss Minnesota, she pledged that every time she entered a room, she informed everyone in her presence of how many children enter foster care in Minnesota each week and what challenges each of those children would face. 

Mary McGowan; foster parent, adoptive parent, volunteer guardian ad litem, child advocate and National Speaker, shared her stories of raising her five adopted special needs children and the scores of foster children who have come into her home.  She told the crowd that without a system of support, she “crashed and burned real hard” for a period of about two years.  Since this time, she has been able to not only find the systems that exist for supporting foster and adoptive families, but also be a part of creating those systems.  She sees that, while meeting the needs of the children is of the utmost importance, without addressing the unique needs of the people who care for those children, we are missing a critical link in the chain of service.

Another foster and adoptive parent, Sarah Shannon, shared her gift of poetry with the crowd.  Her poem, I Wish told the story of life through the eyes of a child experiencing abuse and neglect.  In her poem, the child wishes that they were various things that they see as being loved and honored by their parent more than they are.  The child wishes they were a crack pipe, a bottle of alcohol, even a scary movie just so they can know how it feels to be cherished by a parent. 


Second Judicial District Judge, Judith M. Tilson, told her story through the eyes of a decision maker in the system.  She shared a letter written by a young man, now a member of the armed forces, who found “family” through two of his workers who went above and beyond in their level of care for him.  The result of level of love and care shown by these women could have made the difference between this young man being a successful, contributing member of society or being an adult caught up in the correction system.  She also shared the story of a young woman who was repeatedly failed by the system in getting her need for a permanent family met.  In hindsight, the Judge could see how this young woman’s life could have had a happy ending sooner if different decisions had been made on her behalf.  At one point, the judge took responsibility for her role in this child’s life by sharing how a wrong decision was made early on that delayed this child’s opportunity to be adopted.  The judge said “that would be me” when she shared who made this decision.  Fortunately this child was eventually adopted by the family who had wanted to adopt her as soon as she was placed in foster care.  After the adoption was completed, the judge said “we finally got it right.”

Michelle Johnson, was also an adopted child.  As an adult working with the Fourth Judicial District Guardian Ad Litem Program, she is helping youth in foster care share their stories through dance.  She led a group of young dancers who shared their message to legislators that adopted children should be allowed to receive their original birth certificate.  As the words of DMC’s “I’m Legit[imate]” played, the children danced.  In the end, a large “Birth Certificate” was passed among the children.  This represented a piece of their identity that is currently being withheld from them through legislation that protects the identity of the biological parents.

Joe Kroll, founder of NACAC, addressed with the crowd a current issue affecting adoptive families.  Currently adoptive parents have a system of support established through a group of parent liaisons across the state.  These are individuals who are adoptive parents themselves who are in a position of providing support and a connection to additional resources that adoptive families may have challenges meeting on their own.  As a result of changes in the Department of Human Services budget which would redirect the funding toward clinical support, adoptive families may lose this network.  This would be a devastating loss to the families that receive this service and the children in their care.   

A number of politicians graced the stage and shared their voice on behalf of children in foster care.  Senator Mee Moua told the story of her own children.  Fortunately they have experienced stability in their family life and they are thriving because of this.  Senator Moua keeps them in mind when making decisions on behalf of Minnesota children.  Senator Patricia Ray Torres also shared her experiences as a policy maker on behalf of children.  The final speaker of the day seemed to be a surprise even to the event coordinators.  Senator John Marty came to the podium and shared how deeply moved he was by the display that was placed on the front lawn of the Capitol.  As he faced the crowd, looking back at him were the faces on 187 life sized billboards of children – each one representing the life of a Minnesota child placed in foster care each week.  After the rally closed, Senator Marty was given a billboard photo of a young boy holding a sign that read “Twelve foster homes.”  Senator Marty said that he will have the voices and lives of these children in mind as he promotes policies that will affect them. 

The Forgotten Children Rally shared the voices and told the stories of the children in foster care.  Participants and spectators could hear for themselves the challenges faced by these children and former children who were once a part of this system and realize the need for more volunteer guardians ad litem, foster homes, and adoptive families.  By bringing attention to the unmet needs of these youth and young adults, service providers and policy makers can develop a system to better meet their needs and assure a brighter future for today’s “forgotten children.”     



Submitted by Amy Rostron-Ledoux, KARA volunteer

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Mike Tikkanen Speaker

February 21, 2009 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen, mike tikkanen speaking, Public Policy


Successful entrepreneur and author Mike Tikkanen combines his business acumen with his passion for neglected and abused children to offer answers to some of our communities most serious and complex problems.

Since 1996, he’s volunteered in the Guardian ad-Litem program as a court appointed special advocate (CASA). Mike has worked with about fifty “Invisible Children” that have become part of the County Child Protection System. Mike has become passionate about the madness that surrounds the treatment of abused and neglected children.

Learn the key issues facing abused and neglected children, what programs and policies work to improve their lives, and how you can be a better advocate for at risk children.

A public speaker on business for the past twenty years, Mike decided to bring public attention to what goes on behind closed doors and in the dark corners of our communities.  Mike recently held a workshop at the United Nations in New York, and has spoken at many conferences (Social Workers, Women’s Prison Wardens, Educators) and hundreds of business, community, and religious organizations.

Once you’ve heard Mike’s message on Invisible Children, you’ll never be the same. If you want a program that gets your audience thinking, you’ll call Mike Tikkanen. He guarantees a message filled with rock solid evidence, emotion, and ideas. Call him for Luncheons, breakouts, and keynotes.

Areas of Expertise:

Grassroots Change for At Risk Children
Supporting Education for All
Growing Healthy Families and Children

Simplifying the Mental Health Discussion

Mike’s Most Requested Programs:

The Impact of Abuse & Abandonment

(on Children & Communities)

Why Some Kids Don’t Learn in School

(and what it’s like to teach them)

Punishing Abused Children

(restorative justice vs more punishment)

Mental Health and Psychotropic Drugs For Children

(street drugs, big pharma, and therapy)

Economic Issues of Abuse and Neglect

(short term and long term costs and considerations)

A Local, National, and an International Perspective

(comparisons of quality of life and children’s issues between cities, states, and nations)


“Mike encourages everyone to become aware of the critical issues impacting abused and neglected children.  After you hear him speak, you will ask yourself; what can I do to help?”,  Shirley Schroeder, Teacher, guardian ad-Litem, Mother, Grandmother

“A passionate, informative, and compelling look at the shameful treatment of vulnerable Children, how it impacts society, and what we can do about it. Tikkanen effectively mixes personal experience and real-life stories…”,  BurtBurlow, President Growing Communities For Peace

“It is truly critical for adults from all corners of our society to speak out on behalf of children, especially children without someone who cares about them and their futures…”, Connie Skillingstad, Executive Director Prevent Child AbuseMinnesota

“All children are born into a promise that the adults in their lives would take care of them. Unfortunately, that promise all too often gets broken and the only recourse these children have is a Child Protection System and Juvenile Justice System that certainly could use more help.”,  Minnesota State Senator, Mee Moua

“Open your ears to riveting and accurate stories of today’s children. Mike’s eye opening experiences encourage us all to reach out and make life better for troubled children in our communities”,  Donald Schmitz, Author and Founder of the Grandkids and Me Foundation

Mike’s Next Speaking Engagements

February 21, 2009 in Mike Tikkanen, mike tikkanen speaking

Periodically I speak in public and record those upcoming events in this space.

I recommend calling groups to let them know if you wish to attend.

May 29 , 730 am Rotary Vescio’s St Louis Park MN   

Search Results

  1. Vescio’s Italian Restaurant: St Louis Park


    4001 Highway 7
    Minneapolis, MN 55416
    (952) 920-0733

     9 reviews and more »


Radisson Hotel Roseville at 2540 North Cleveland Avenue in Roseville, Minnesota.  Take the Cleveland Avenue South exit off 35W, go south on Cleveland to the hotel (Cleveland Avenue is parallel to 35W on the east side). I speak from 1 to 130pm. to attend please call 651/636-9054.  


May 26th, Eden Prairie Morning Rotary;


7:30 am on Tuesday mornings May 26th, at Biaggi’s at the Eden Prairie Center mall.  Rotary meeting with breakfast buffet.  

Call Scott H. Neal     952.949.8300



Healthier Children = Safer & Happier Communities

December 28, 2008 in Events, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding

Petition to the Hennepin County Board December 9, 2008 (signed by 160 Guardian ad Litems)   

This petition is being presented to the Hennepin County Board by Guardians ad Litem, most of whom are volunteers on behalf of abused and neglected children.

The proposed budget cuts to child protection and many of its related service providers will have a negative and possibly dangerous impact on the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. These children cannot afford high powered lobbyists to plead their case, however our plea to you today is more sincere in that we have no financial stake; only a very strong emotional one.

It is a tragic fact that MN has a significant population of abused and neglected children and the system in place to protect them is already stressed and failing in 19 of 23 federal measurements. The significant cuts being proposed by the county can only erode this system even more and the consequences could be devastating.

In these difficult economic times, it is understood that many areas of state and local government services need to be evaluated and reduced where possible. Unlike services provided for public entertainment or convenience, underfunding child protection can have long lasting negative financial and social repercussions.

It is likely that the stressful times to come will only increase the number of children in need of our protection. Knowing this, how can cuts be justified?

Children who experience abuse or neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult, and 30 percent more likely to commit violent crime.

One-third of abused and neglected children will eventually victimize their own children.
The statistics quoted above are only part of the unfortunate future of the abused child. The incidence of mental illness, chemical dependency and teenage pregnancy are much higher in abused children. The costs to handle these problems are far greater than the cost to help families and children before the problems become severe. The extended cost to schools and other people who become victimized by these troubled children as they become adults is immeasurable.

Isn’t it worth looking at cutting more expendable budget items a little deeper than decreasing an already compromised system which could have life threatening consequences? Can’t we remember that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure?

PLEASE, reduce or eliminate the budget cuts to child protection. The undersigned GAL’s have given countless volunteer hours in advocating for these children. We ask now that you consider doing your part to help them as well.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Tell us your story, comment, or perspective.  If this is worth sharing with others, press the share this button below and send it to someone you know.

PTSD study of abused children

September 28, 2008 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen


I am convinced that children in child protective services deserve and need mental health testing and services. In my experience as a CASA guardian ad-Litem working with children over twelve years, I have only rarely seen adequate services provided. A County Judge has provided me with the psychotropic medical prescriptions of the five and ten year old children that have passed through her courtroom in child protection. This article makes my point dramatically:


Trauma and PTSD Among Adolescents With Severe Emotional Disorders Involved in Multiple Service Systems

Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D. and Jonas Taub, M.A.

OBJECTIVE: This study examined the prevalence and correlates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among adolescents with severe emotional disorders who were involved in multiple service systems. METHODS: Sixty-nine adolescents, ages 11–17, and their primary caregivers participated in a system-of-care project in three regions of New Hampshire and were interviewed to determine adolescent trauma exposure, prevalence of PTSD, treatment history, family background, behavioral and emotional problems, functioning, caregiver strain, and strengths and resilience. RESULTS: The rate of current PTSD was 28%, which was underdiagnosed in adolescents’ medical records. PTSD was related to gender (42% for girls and 19% for boys; p=.03), history of sexual abuse (61% among youths with sexual abuse and 15% among youths without), chart diagnosis of depression (47% among youths with depression diagnoses and 16% among youths without), and treatment with multiple psychotropic medications (53% among youths prescribed two or more medications and 26% among those prescribed no medication or one medication). Adolescents with PTSD also were more likely to have run away, engaged in self-injurious and delinquent behavior, reported higher anxiety and depression, and functioned worse at school and home than those without PTSD. CONCLUSIONS: PTSD is a common but underdiagnosed disorder among adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral disorders who are involved in multiple service systems. Routine screening for trauma exposure and PTSD should be conducted with all adolescents receiving mental health services so that treatment can be provided to those with PTSD.

Related Article:


June 2008: This Month’s Highlights
Psychiatr Serv 2008 59: 599. [Full Text] [PDF]   

 Tell us your story, comment, or perspective.  Thinkk of someone you would like to send this to?  press the share this button below.

Yes, We Do Know

May 6, 2008 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children


Dear editor,

Today’s (5/6/08) Minneapolis Star Tribune article “Disorders are likelier in adopted teenagers” reviewing Margaret Keyes U of M research, is not helpful to children in child protection.

While the article concentrates on infant adoptions and it does state that adopted kids are 2.5 to 6 times more likely to show up for counseling than non adoptive kids, the author makes the claim that “No one understands why adopted children are more troubled, nor how often those emotional problems extend into adulthood“.

As a long time volunteer guardian ad-Litem working with children in child protection, it hurts me to see this kind of statement in print.

If there is one thing we should know about American children that have been removed from their birth homes, it is that they have suffered extended exposure to violence and deprivation.

This is the definition of the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” which is the legal statute that allows children to be removed from their family.

Extended exposure to violence and deprivation is also the World Health Organizations definition of torture. Children are not removed from their birth parents unless the home environment has endangered the life of the child. That is the law.

Of the 50 children I have advocated for over twelve years, all had experienced severe and chronic violence and neglect. Sexual abuse of children is not uncommon. Their stories would make you cry (you may listen to them on this website under the book button). 

To express wonder at why abused children develop emotional problems as they age is misleading and unfair to these children.

A child protection judge has provided me the annual psychotropic medical prescriptions taken by very young children in her courtroom. I have not seen children in child protection receive the therapy that should have accompanied the drugs. Five year old kids proscribed Prozac. Ritalin is a cocaine derivative.

I have experienced four and five year olds trying to kill themselves.

To expect these children to go to school, play well with others, and become fully functional human beings without special attention is just wrong.

MN former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz has stated that the vast majority of children in the Juvenile Justice System have come out of the Child Protection System. Marion Wright Edelman (Children’s Defense Fund) clearly articulates the relationship between abused children and prison. Almost all criminal justice inmates have passed through the juvenile justice system.

More than half of the youth in the Juvenile Justice System have mental health problems (about half of this number have multiple and severe diagnosis).

It is clear to me that most of the three million children per year that are referred to child protection services, need and deserve much more help than they currently receive.

Children that receive inadequate help go on to lead dysfunctional lives (80% of the youth aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives).

Troubled children would not go on to disrupt our classrooms and hurt our school performance (25% of U.S. high school graduates are functionally illiterate) and they would not be arrested and sent to prison (44% of the adult male African American Hennepin County residents were arrested in 2001).

Art Rolnick at the Federal Reserve has done extensive work on this issue and proven that early childhood education is a terrific return on investment for our community.

Speaking openly about children in child protection and focusing on their needs to make the economic argument for helping them, would give us safer streets, better schools, and empty jails and prisons.

We would also have happy functioning members of our community instead of the troubled youth we have today.

Today’s cost of incarceration, failing schools, and unsafe streets are exponentially greater than the costs of intervention and prevention

It is also the right thing to do.

Ignoring or misunderstating children’s issues is not helpful to them (or us).

We very much do know why adopted children are more troubled and that their emotional issues do extend into adulthood. We also know what needs to be done to help them.

I’m a child advocate. Let’s help them.

Take the time to investigate the discussion groups on this website.  It is easy to participate.

Best wishes,

the KARA TEAM                                                                                                                                                                                                          Tell us your story, comment, or perspective.  Think of someone you would like to send this to? Press the “share this” button below.

Defining Institutions by What they Create

November 15, 2007 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

October Blog


This outstate Minnesota story bears repeating.
I have come to know this family.    They don’t drink, do drugs, or have a history of crime or violence.   John has always worked.   They love their children.   This is their side of the story.   I spent five days working with John and have come to believe him.
Mary and John and their four young children suffered a house fire that ruined part of their home last year after the birth of their last child.

John was working too much (the fire repairs made them broke) and Mary was suffering from post partum depression.

The house fire required John to make quick repairs to accomodate the family until they could adequately rebuild. The house was messy because of this and Mary’s depression.

The family is poor and did not have insurance for their fire repairs.  They were struggling with the cost of repairs to rebuild their home.

Mary called child services to get help.

Instead, the county removed their children from them a few weeks before Christmas (putting them in separate homes), and then fought with John and Mary for months to keep the children from returning home.   When the children were returned, it was one child at a time, visitation was made very difficult, and instead of helping the family get back on its feet, charged them $6000 in court costs.

The trauma experienced by these children during this process was terrible and it is still with them.

As a guardian ad-Litem, I have experienced this fear first hand. There is nothing more frightening to a child than to believe that mommy and daddy are gone. Young children do not understand court procedures and words don’t comfort.

Children experience real and long term pain and suffering as a result of this trauma. Removal from the birth home should never be taken lightly and children should receive professional help to deal with their trauma during and afterwards.

This family reached out for help to overcome a personal disaster and depression. Instead they were treated very badly.

In the end, the presiding judge reversed the aggressive position of the social workers with hard words to the department.

This process did nothing for the benefit of the children or the home they live in. In fact, the $6000 court costs have set the family back even more, and the children will carry their PTSD type fears for years to come.

In my twelve years as a guardian ad-Litem I have worked with about fifty children and have never met a social worker that meant to hurt anyone, or act out of meanness.

Social work is complicated business that involves a great deal of knowledge across a broad spectrum of factors. Training and public policy are critical to the adminidstration of programs and methods that are meant to protect children.

Depression and poverty are a part of many lives in this nation and every nation.

Punishing people for human problems serves no one.   Calling what happened to this family child protection is a misnomer.   Child protection would have been to help this family solve it’s problems (not add to them).

“Defining our institutions by what they actually create instead of what they were designed to create“* would be the first step in making the changes necessary to fix our poorly understood and vastly under-resourced system.

It is only “We The People” that will bring attention to our dissatisfaction with public policies that need redirection and resources.

Not calling your state representatives and not voting won’t help.

Please submit your own stories to me and I will post those that fit on this website.

Get Active

*Quote from Kathleen Long, Author of Demons and Dragons

Consider starting or joining an online action/discussion group on this website to bring this dialogue into your community.

By Definition

July 4, 2007 in Crime and Courts, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy


If institutions are to be defined by what they create instead of what they were designed to create, Kathleen Long Angels and Demons what would an objective analysis tell us today?

How are our schools functioning, what are the results from foster care, is juvenile justice serving its purpose, do the courts work, and how successful is our prison system?

Internationally, our high school performance has fallen from world leader to trailing in almost every category. We now compare ourselves to “emerging nations” so that we are 43rd out of 121 emerging countries instead of 21st out of the 24 industrialized nations in language, math, history, physics, and most other subjects.

25% of America’s high school graduates are functionally illiterate upon graduation; one out of three of them could not find Florida on a recent map test. In Minneapolis, the sister school (Roosevelt) to the one I attended (Edison) has graduated under 30% of its students over the last three years, the city average graduation rate is just over 55%.

Former MN Supreme Court Justice Kathleen Blatz stated that 90% of the youth in the juvenile justice system had come through the state’s child protection system (almost all criminal justice inmates come out of the juvenile justice system). Nationally, almost 25% of juveniles are tried as adults in the U.S. and a growing number of states allow children 13 and 14 years old to be tried in adult courts.

A recent study indicates that up to 80% of children aging out of foster care are leading dysfunctional lives. A Minnesota judge has provided me the Prozac, Ritalin, and other psychotropic medication prescriptions taken by children in her courtroom (most of them under ten years old) and it points at one of the key issues thay might explain why so many youth leaving the foster care program find it hard to cope with life.

In my experience in the child protection system as a guardian ad-Litem, it is a rare state ward that has found adequate mental health services (many of them are proscribed psychotropic medications with minimal professional help). Traumas experienced in the birth home and the following court process of removal leave permanent and painful scars. To treat these traumas with psychotropic medications and no long term / consistent therapy leaves children with problem behaviors and poor coping skills for the rest of their lives.

America has more people in prison per capita than any other nation. We also have more criminals and violent crime than any other industrialized nation. Nationally, 13% of Black men can’t vote because they are felons. In Minneapolis, 44% of African American men were arrested in 2001 (no duplicate arrests) African American Men’s Study

If we are to define our criminal justice system by what it creates, it is successful in building more prisons than any other nation, maintaining terrifically high recidivism rates, keeping inmates in longer, and capturing huge percentages of African American men in the process. 


Similarly, if we define the our child protection and juvenile justice systems by what they create, most of the inmates in criminal justice come from juvenile justice, and almost all of the youth in juvenile justice (in Minnesota) come from child protection services. It follows that children in child protection have a terrific potential for entering the criminal justice system.

It is painful for me as a citizen/guardian ad-Litem to watch the impact of mistreated (in their birth homes and as state wards) children passing through the system, failing in school, and aging out of foster care going onto lead dysfunctional lives.

What will it take for our communities to recognize that by abandoning the weakest and most vulnerable among us we not only destroy children’s lives but perpetuate chaos and dysfunction in our communities?

Would we care more if we knew the cost to society for thirty to fifty years of institutionalization plus the cost of youth crimes and 14 year old girls having babies?

It is not the people working in these fields that are to be blamed*.

There are millions of educators, foster & adoptive parents, social workers, court and justice personnel and others putting great effort into making life better for struggling children and families.   I am one of them. 

Our schools, courts/justice, child protection systems, and our health systems will not sustain our nation without a commitment to support from our communities and policy makers to do the right thing.

Investing in children is the best investment this nation can make today.   It’s what we are not doing that is expensive. The longer we wait, the more lives will be damaged, and the more it will cost us as a society.   Pass it on.  Consider starting a conversation on this topic in your community.  Join or start a discussion group on this website to begin.

*Blaming teachers (as many politicians do around election time) is not fair or productive.   Teachers don’t teach for fame or wealth, they chose this field because they care about kids, learning, and community.   Teaching is hard work at modest pay (the same can be said for social and  justice workers).

More reading; Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Art Rolnick’s Federal Reserve Board Article
Best wishes,
tu amigos the KARA team

Saving Ourselves From the Next Virginia Tech

April 25, 2007 in Crime and Courts, Health and Mental Health, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

24 months ago in a small Minnesota town, a mentally unstable student murdered and wounded 14 students before killing himself (my April 2005 weblog posting).

Jeff Weise also kept an outrageous website openly referencing homicide and suicide. Jeff was also denied treatment and prescribed Prozac*. After the carnage, Red Lake community found the money for a mental health family center to counsel troubled youth.

At that time in Minnesota there were 15 child psychiatrists in the entire state (population about 4 million) and the student to counselor ratio in MN high schools was 900 to 1.

As a child advocate (long time guardian ad Litem) I strongly feel the need for mental health therapy for those who need it. The children I work with have been severely traumatized and need adequate attention paid to their needs.

In my many years as a guardian ad-Litem it has been my experience that at risk children don’t get help until after their behaviors have become unmanageable and dangerous. Often the help they get comes in the form of a pill and not the personal professional counselling that they really need.

A Hennepin county judge has shared with me the psychotropic drug medications being taken by children in her courtroom. It is truely unbelievable how many disturbed and undertreated youth walk among us.

When attention to mental health services comes earlier, our communities can save themselves from the immense suffering that follows these horrific events.

* Not too many years from now it is my hope that we will recognize the repercussions of legally drugging children with psychotropic medications without adequate mental health services. Today we can only read about these consequences in the newspaper.

Day Care; The Bargain

February 8, 2007 in Guardian ad-Litem, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

Because the waiting list for subsidized daycare is one year into the future for the father of the children I represent (as a county guardian ad-Litem) there is a good chance that his two small children will be taken from him by the county and adopted by someone he has never met.    

It is also possible that he may not be able to visit his children if they are adopted.

John (not his real name) is an ex felon that has turned his life around and is now there for his children when their mother has lost custody due to her severe problems with substance abuse and failure to keep her children safe from harm.

John’s efforts have been remarkable. He works hard, means well, and loves his children. His job gives him a great sense of meaning and is very important to him.

His choice today is to quit his job and go on welfare and care for his children or keep working and face losing the children to adoption. Minnesota used to be the fifth best state for providing day care. Today it ranks 29th.

What benefit does our community reap by giving him this choice? Do we save that much money? The cost of welfare and daycare are both about the same (so money isn’t the issue).

I’m in touch with the children’s suffering and I know how much it will hurt them if dad chooses to keep his job and give up his children.

It’s been a brutal year for these children as they’ve watched their mother struggle with substance abuse as they were moved a foster family while dad and mom have fought to create a home that the children are safe in.

I appreciate the argument that “if we were talking about mom” the assumption would be that mom quit her job (go on welfare) and care for her children. Is it useful to our community to force either mom or dad to quit their jobs and go on welfare because they can’t afford childcare?

What higher purpose is served by taking children from poor people that have to fight so hard just to live among us?

The sadness that I’ve witnessed this family live through this past year is terrific.

Daycare for poor working class people is not an extravagance if it can keep families together and mom or dad working. It is a bargain.

Respond to a KARA blog, or join or start a discussion or group to start a dialogue in your community.

Let’s help our neighbors

the KARA team



Happy Holidays To All

December 31, 2006 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

Being warm and fuzzy about friends and family during the holiday season is the point of it all. Expectations created by our frenzied gift giving and guilt making culture make it difficult. No pointers here, just observations.

I was knocked out of my warm and fuzzy state by a neighbor of my most favorite in laws on our holiday trip this year. This neighbor (foster family) had worked hard to make a loving home for abused children that they hoped to make a permanent life with.

This family was stopped in their adoption by a single social worker. Instead the children went from their familiar and loving home to strangers. Based only on the decision of a single worker. My family members made several attempts to provide character reference and a good word for the family but were told that it wasn’t their business and to stay out of it. My brother in law was frustrated that there was nothing that could be done to influence the lives of these children that they had watched thriving in a good home.


There was no guardian ad-Litem or outside observer to give the judge another perspective. The children were not allowed to voice their observations or desires. Outside support for the family was not allowed. There were no checks and balances to counteract mistakes or bad decisions.  

We all know how critical it is for children to bond and begin the process of making a whole new self out of new surroundings.

For a child there is nothing more traumatic (aside from death) than being removed from your birth family.

Healing can only come from the rebuilding of broken emotional attachments and the redefinition of self that comes from family.

I compare removing children from a long term foster care home unnecessarily to re-breaking a bone after it has set. 


Have we not discovered the mental dynamics of the healing process a child goes through to become a functioning member of our society? Do we know what doesn’t work?

In a recent national study, 80% of children aging out of foster homes go on to lead dysfunctional lives (drugs, alcoholism, mental illness, crime, no job). In Michigan (where this family lived) the governor stated that 90% of children that have aged out of foster homes were in jail or prison.

Our nation suffers from a great disparity in the quality and integrity of services and providers of child protection. There is a great cost in resources and lives by not caring enough about what happens to the millions of children that are placed in Child Protective services each year.

It is awful for a child to be removed from a birth home. But when it happens it should be the lesser of two evils. It is criminal for a county to unnecessarily break the bond a child has established in a new home because of a poorly designed Child Protection system.

I am an outspoken advocate for the guardian ad-Litem program. Give children a voice in their own childhood. It will go a long way in improving their lives and the dismal statistics that are so pervasive today.

How is your state handling children in need of child protection? 
Pass this story on to others and send me your own best and worst stories on your experiences with the child protection system.
Join or start an one of our online groups/discussions on this website to carry this discussion into your community.
Best wishes,
the KARA team

The Longest Day

April 2, 2006 in Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy, The States

remarkable chinese iconThe longest day.

8am to 9pm last Friday Reassessing the Past, Present, and Future Role of Children and Their Participation in American Law. Hamline University 4/1/06

From a legal perspective the most under-protected persons in America are sexually abused children.

One study indicated that 11% of judges and 51% of prosecuting attorneys admitted that they had deliberately confused the child (witness) during the proceedings.

What this means in practice, is that the nine-year old girl sitting on the stand in the courtroom is being bullied by intense and deliberately confusing cross-examination about her abuse.

Everyone at the sysmposium agreed that children are not mentally capable of undergoing adult type cross examination, but it is clear that this still happens in many cases. Read the rest of this entry →

Intelligent Design

June 5, 2005 in Crime and Courts, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

cropped-default-header.pngAs a guardian ad-Litem speaking for voiceless children born into toxic and violent homes, placed in overburdened child protection systems, and finally into court systems and prisons, I have been thinking about public policy making.  Designing public policy to accomplish certain goals is an important and difficult process that needs public discourse. Institutions are defined by what they actually do (as opposed to what we claim they do.) We the people, as in the voting citizenry need to appreciate our role in the political process that creates public policy. Read the rest of this entry →

Post Memorial Day blog

May 30, 2005 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Public Policy

KoalaI have just finished reading about the Harvard study on the relationship between foster children and soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.  According to the Harvard study, foster children are twice as likely to suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome as soldiers returning from Iraq are.  As a guardian ad-Litem observing children removed from frightening and toxic birth homes, I understand the correlation between living in a war zone and living in a dangerous home.   Read the rest of this entry →

Abused Children and Crime

May 24, 2005 in Crime and Courts, Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Mike Tikkanen, Public Policy

guatemalan boy 2Unlearning Child Abuse (or go to prison)   Children are not aware of the rightness or wrongness of their own abuse. They do not know that abuse is abnormal, or even that it is wrong. To a five-year-old, no matter how painful and frightening her life is, her life is normal. A sad and lasting fact of child abuse is that children blame themselves for the abuse they receive.

How can sex, drugs, and violence be unlearned by a ten year old child whose entire life has been just that? It takes years of therapy to change a child’s perception of an abusive past. It takes a great deal longer for an abused child to develop a healthy view of the world and a positive self-image. Our child protection systems don’t provide much therapy. Read the rest of this entry →

Tasers and School Children

May 18, 2005 in Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

default-header Today’s Star Tribune article on St. Paul schools new policy on Taser use, (B2, James Walsh, St. Paul schools OK policy on Taser use, May 18, 2005) draws attention to the growing violence in our public schools. Teaching can be a dangerous profession for educators faced with unmanageable children or chaotic classroom environments.

Prozac, Ritalin, and a host of other psychotropic medications have taken the place of mental health counseling for children as young as six and seven years old. Behavior modification is now often a function of “if they took their meds.” Read the rest of this entry →

Unhappy Schools

May 12, 2005 in Guardian ad-Litem, Health and Mental Health, Invisible Children, Kids At Risk Action (KARA), Politics and Funding, Public Policy

coneflowersA snapshot of our schools and community: 28% of the class at Minneapolis Roosevelt High school graduated last year. The Minneapolis school system had an overall 53% graduation rate.  Blaming teachers for failing schools is wrong. Teachers teach because they love learning and children. It is a political vote getter to blame educators for our larger institutional failures. The system needs to make learning possible. Politicians are missing the core issues.  Read the rest of this entry →

What we do to our children

May 3, 2005 in Invisible Children, Politics and Funding, Public Policy

mn panorama leaves turned 2“What we do to our children they will do to society”   Pliny the Elder    I met with State Senator Mee Moua recently. I am a guardian ad-Litem concerned with the twice-abused children I know through County Child Protection.  Senator Moua is the first State legislator to speak to me with a genuine interest in creating a public dialogue around Children’s mental health issues after many tries.

We agree that a significant part of the problem with failing schools is the big numbers of traumatized children being warehoused in classrooms.
Teachers are in the terrible position of being responsible for educating students and managing traumatized children at the same time.

Because it is a complicated issue with no simple answers, legislators avoid the topic and don’t provide useful solutions. Read the rest of this entry →

talk of suicide

March 31, 2005 in Kids At Risk Action (KARA)

remarkable chinese iconJeff Weise resembles many of the children in Child Protection I know.  A mother that hated him, Psychotropic medications, repeated examples of self-loathing, talk of suicide and homicide.  Working with neglected and abused children has shown me a part of human development that I could not have otherwise become familiar with.

Normal children overcome feelings of self-hate and inadequacy with the help of parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives.  Abused children can’t trust the adults in their lives. Their own abuse has come from the trusted adults in their lives. These children often resent or hate authority figures as a result of the suffering adults have visited upon them. Read the rest of this entry →