This Hennepin County CASA guardian ad Litem is convinced that Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune are responsible for the great increase in child abuse cases in this state at this time. And that is a good thing.
In a task force oversight committee meeting, I heard a service provider suggesting that Brandon’s reporting was making her work more difficult – instead of celebrating that many more abused children were getting services because Brandon’s articles are bringing publicity to the amount of trauma and horror of child abuse in our community.
The silence and lack of understanding, transparency and attention abused children and Minnesota’s Child Protective Services have suffered for many years are being made public now by the Governor’s Task Force and the dogged investigative reporting of this seriously committed writer and truth teller at our local newspaper. We should celebrate this as it is forcing a conversation around child abuse, it’s causes, solutions and what happens when we do little or nothing about it.
Brandon Stahl’s article today identifies the increase in reported cases of child abuse and how 100 additional social workers are still unable to sufficiently deal with the problem. It should be noted that the CASA guardian ad-Litem program received no additional funding when DHS received the increase allowing them to hire those social workers and for a long time now about 100 children have gone without guardian ad-litem advocates in our court system. The increase in child abuse reports means an increase of children entering the system – they need our help.
Brandon draws attention to what Dee Wilson from the Casey Foundation pinpointed as lack of trust, lack of resources (especially mental health treatment) and a fear of , “staff viability” – social workers quitting (25 recently) because of a “swamped system” with almost double the recommended caseload.
It is not easy finding replacement workers willing to step into this important and difficult work. Its a position that receives almost no public or institutional appreciation but very high stress levels and quite a bit of negative publicity for failures when they occur.
When there are too many children in your caseload, children fall through the cracks – like Eric Dean (died after 15 ignored reports of abused by mandated reporters) and Kendrea Johnson (6 year old that hung herself) leaving a social worker devastated and blamed at the same time. No one wants or should have that kind of responsibility placed on them.
For the six year old child being molested, beaten and repeatedly traumatized, the only path to safety and a normal life is our child protection system – a mandated reporter and a social worker with the training and ability to spend the time to accurately evaluate this child’s circumstances and provide shelter and help when needed.
It is wrong to send children back to live with the abuser or confining traumatized children in the isolated pediatric ward* or emergency room now used as a holding pen at HCMC, a last resort for the 20+ children unable to find space in overwhelmed County shelters.
It should be noted that Hennepin County Medical Center sees 900 to 1000 emergency psychiatric cases each month – many of them are abused children (note; this is just one of our city hospitals). Our Task Force has pointed out repeatedly that there exists a major shortage of mental health beds for our most serious mental health problems.
There is something disturbing about a community that can find no adequate safe space for a prostituted 7 year old or badly beaten 4 year old. I agree with Jennifer DeCubellis that “there won’t be a decrease in these numbers” (now that the public is becoming more aware and we will demand a better response from our institutions) and that we should “provide better support in our communities and (for) our families so those reports don’t happen in child protection to begin with”.
“Janine Moore, the area director of the county’s children and family services department, said earlier this month that child protection has a backlog of nearly 300 unreviewed reports, up from 111 in February. Moore said staff examine all cases to determine which ones need immediate response.
Earlier this year, Moore told the committee there were 15 children on a shelter waiting list, meaning they needed to be taken into protective custody but child protection workers had nowhere to put them. At one point, the committee learned, there were 30 such cases, with a wait of up to two weeks before a safe home opened up for a child.
“Quite frankly,” Moore told the committee, “we’ve been struggling with this for over a year now.”
Hennepin County CASA guardian ad litem Calvin McIntyre says that in this overwhelmed child protection system (highest caseload in more than six years), “I’ve had kids get worse”.
“About two dozen children in the past year who had nowhere else to go were admitted to the pediatric ward of Hennepin County Medical Center, said the ward’s director, Dr. Frances Prekker. Some, said Prekker, had to be confined to the ward because they might run away. Some of the children stayed in the ward for a month, Prekker said.”“It’s quite stressful [for the children]. The hospital is a really boring place to live,” Prekker said. “They feel quite isolated.”
“Brooklyn Park Police Chief Craig Enevoldsen said his officers have brought young children they suspected were abused to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale.”
These sad truths would be a little more understandable if this community hadn’t allocated a billion dollars for a stadium, a billion + dollars for transportation & almost a billion dollars to rebuild a bridge that fell in the river because we were too cheap to make the 5 million dollars in repairs repeatedly requested by County and Federal engineers.
The unintended consequences of saving the 5 million dollars in bridge maintenance were almost a billion dollars in rebuilding and costs related to the failed brige, 14 deaths, 144 seriously injured people, and pain and disruption to thousands of metro residents for years to come.
The unintended consequences of saving the effort and money it will take to build a more effective child protection system include failing schools, high teacher turnover, dangerous city streets and filled prisons along with a growing public concern that our institutions are creating exactly what they were designed to stop. Without community support, children don’t learn to cope, often fail in school and public life (80% of children aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives).
Call your State Rep today, and join Safe Passage For Children and let your legislators know that you want them to vote for child friendly initiatives.
ALL ADULTS ARE THE PROTECTORS OF ALL CHILDREN.
*The 35W bridge was in the bottom 3% of all federal bridges for safety & needed repairs when it collapsed – it was almost 100% dangerous according to the state and federal engineers that study bridge maintenance.