Rich Gehrman continues to work tirelessly compiling data critical to understanding why state agencies and education are struggling so.  I visited with Rich not long ago.  A few minutes with this bright, insightful fellow is enough to capture the depth and scope of his knowledge & his commitment to MN children.  He is super smart and super committed.

This piece from the very fine blog Hindsight 2020 clearly articulates the current state of care available to the abused and neglected children of Minnesota.  What it says to me is that MN screens out twice as many child abuse cases as other states, of those screened in, 75% of families are not even offered services.  The lack of record keeping in MN is a big problem.  Many states have fallen victim to thinking that what we don’t know can’t hurt us (it is destroying at risk children).

Rich Gehrman’s final plea is to make Minnesota a leader in outcomes-based child protection programs.  If we pulled this off, the path to prison would be interrupted, schools would improve, and our streets would be so much safer.  Thanks Rich for a clear and practical approach to making life better for abused and neglected children.

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Child Abuse in Minnesota: Are We Still Protecting Children?

By James Parkington and Rich Gehrman, Guest Commentary, November 7, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Each year, Minnesota’s local child protection agencies receive approximately 56,000 reports of alleged child maltreatment and screen in 17,000 for review. These reports are handled by 86 local child welfare agencies representing 87 counties and two tribes.

There are three things to know about this system. First, local agencies do not always record enough information to tell if they are meeting the minimum statutory requirements for protecting children. Second, the information that does exist points to worrisome trends. Finally, available data focuses on processes not outcomes.

Earlier this year the state Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) found that what ‘counts’ as child maltreatment varies widely across the state. In short, whether you get protection as a child, and how soon you get it depends, a lot on where you live. OLA also found that local agencies do not keep consistent records, particularly on screened-out reports. A troubling number of local agencies either keep only enough information to recognize a repeat report, or none at all. This is important because state law requires agencies to consider patterns of abuse or neglect in deciding whether to investigate.

The OLA report did confirm that Minnesota screens in only about 32% of reports of maltreatment compared to 62% for other states. We have a correspondingly lower rate for determining whether abuse or neglect did in fact occur. Does Minnesota simply do a better job of screening and investigating, or are we leaving too many abused children in harm’s way?

At the next step in the process, 70% of families screened in statewide are now diverted to a voluntary program called Family Assessment. In Hennepin County a Citizen’s Review Panel found that 75% of these families are not even offered services, and only 17% end up receiving them. So even when children finally get the attention of a child protection worker, they seldom get services. Is this how it works in all counties? We don’t know, because local agencies do not capture consistent information on what happens in Family Assessment cases.

People reading this may be tempted to say “look another government program that doesn’t work.” However, in our experience child welfare staff are working hard to do the right things in a program that doesn’t have any easy days. Minnesota prides itself on local control of programs, with guidance from the state. In this case, a stronger set of state reporting standards, not just guidelines, could produce more uniform and complete outcomes statewide. It is also not clear what if any impact state funding cuts to counties are having on child protection programs.

In the near term the first priority is following up on the OLA recommendations to establish common standards for maltreatment, and to get reliable data across the state. Next we need to start measuring outcomes, to see whether a child’s encounter with the child welfare system makes them better – or worse. There is new national interest and federal support for an outcomes-based approach. Minnesota should be a leader in carrying it out.

Rich Gehrman is Executive Director at Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, a citizen group advocating for improvements to Minnesota’s child welfare system. James Parkington is a writer and researcher with the organization.