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

Today, Safe Passage for Minnesota children is reporting that Pope County will face no legal penalty for its role in the slow tortured death of 4 year old Eric Dean.  Safe Passage states that “if this case doesn’t rise to the level of malfeasance, no case ever will.”

A few years 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.  The information below has improved but it reflects the reporting and state of child protection following Eric Dean’s death…

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 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.


Who will speak for Minnesota’s abused kids?

  • Article by: MIKE TIKKANEN
  • Updated: May 2, 2014 – 9:03 PM

Our record on child protection is not, in fact, fine, and more resources are needed.

  • It hurts me to see people in high positions who are responsible for child protection make claims that there’s nothing to see here, things are just fine, child protection is working as it needs to (“Counties are committed to safety of kids,” Comments, Star Tribune April 25 2014).


There is very little fine about it, and by accident or by design, information about it is hard to find and rarely published. By almost any measure and from my perspective over many years as a volunteer guardian ad litem within the system, there are not enough resources, record keeping is poor, child protection cases need to be over the top to get into the system, and children stand only a small chance of getting what they need to recover from the years of abuse and neglect they have suffered.

Things have gotten worse since Minnesota went from screening out one-third of the cases to screening out two-thirds. Screening out 90 percent of cases (as four Minnesota counties do) is a very big deal.

Abused and neglected children have no voice. They are invisible, silent, until a mandated reporter makes a report and it is recorded somewhere (and the report is not ignored or discarded) or until a baby is found raped or killed and makes the paper. Thank you, Brandon Stahl, Star Tribune reporter, for “7 of 10 abuse calls not checked” (April 20). The discrepancies between counties when it comes to child protection are a very serious matter. It’s not OK to leave children in dangerous homes. It’s cruel.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz’s statements that “90 percent of the youth in the juvenile justice system have come through child protection services” and “the difference between that poor child and a felon is about eight years” are still true today.

Social workers, educators, foster and adoptive parents, and others working with abused and neglected children work with the training, resources and support that they have. Short them, and we short children.

While counties offer services to some of the two-thirds of families that are screened out in Minnesota, most of those services are declined. The child remains in a home that could very well be toxic and nothing is done. About half of my guardian ad litem cases involved child sexual abuse (one as young as 2, two as young as 3 and none older than 11 when the abuse started).

The good news is that we are finally talking about this. Until the layers of this onion are peeled, and the layers of inadequate and problematic policies are identified and discussed, we will live with the racial disparities, education, safety and justice issues that would be solvable except for our own negligence.

Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter’s argument that it’s misleading to compare Minnesota to other states proves the point that we are scared to death to measure or investigate this “onion.”

We are living with fourth and fifth generations of abused and neglected children raising their own families of abused and neglected children. Coping skills do not come with the stork. Non-coping children become dysfunctional, mentally unhealthy adults.

Once the cycle is broken, children grow up to lead productive lives and have families with happy, successful children. Until the cycle is broken, we will live with very unhealthy adults, crime, troubled schools and full prisons. The cycle will not be broken until we put these issues on the table, discuss them and come up with better answers.

I’m tired of people talking about how highly our community values children. We pay day care workers about the same wage as food service workers, and our day care workers don’t have degrees in mental health or other fields as they must in other advanced nations. We expel more children from day care than any other industrialized nation. The United States leads the world in sexually transmitted diseases among its children. About a third of the children in the child protection system are taking psychotropic medications (they can’t argue about it); in the juvenile justice system, that number is doubled. We trail the industrialized world in reducing child poverty and our records on prenatal care and fetal-alcohol births are abysmal.

This is how we value children.

Social workers are trained to not speak about these things. There really is no one to speak for abused and neglected children unless the child is lucky enough to have a guardian ad litem willing to speak out. These children need a louder voice in our community.

Become that voice for children. Contact your legislator about supporting funding for early-childhood programs. Call now; it’s important.



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

  • Article by: BRANDON STAHL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2014 – 10:13 PM

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

Minnesota’s counties received nearly 68,000 reports of child abuse or neglect last year but closed most of those cases without investigation or assessment.

A review of state and federal data by the Star Tribune shows that the number of child abuse reports being screened out without any protective action rose last year to the third-highest rate in the country.

In all, the state screened out more than 48,000 such abuse reports last year ­— and authorities often made their decisions after only gathering information from a phone call or a fax.

What happens to those cases is largely unknown. Records are not open to the public. Many counties also don’t keep track of closed cases, potentially resulting in multiple reports of abuse of a child without intervention. A bill advancing through the Legislature would require counties to keep information on screened-out cases for a year to spot recurring child abuse.

“We’re finding gross discrepancies in what one county does vs. another,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.

Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota screened out nearly 93 percent of its cases last year, the highest in the state, taking in only three of the 41 child abuse complaints it received, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Le Sueur County, about an hour south of ­Minneapolis, was second highest, rejecting 89 percent of the 453 abuse reports it received.

Houston County in ­southeastern Minnesota closed only 5 percent of its complaints without investigation, the state’s lowest percentage.

The screened-out reports can be an early warning. Nicollet County received a report in 2007 of suspected child neglect by Mona and Russell Hauer but chose not to investigate, records show.

Five years later, Mona Hauer brought her 8-year-old son to a Mankato hospital. His bones pressed against his skin and he weighed just 35 pounds. Doctors admitted him to intensive care and diagnosed him with failure to thrive and anemia. Authorities accused the parents of starving the child and confining him in a basement, and charged the two with child neglect.

Only six counties screened out a higher percentage of their reports last year than Nicollet.

“This is something to be extremely concerned about,” said John Mattingly, a senior fellow at the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation, which studies child welfare. “It’s happening because the initial criteria they have set allows too many cases to be dismissed before you even take an initial look at them. If you want to know what that’s about, it’s about controlling caseloads.”

Erin Sullivan Sutton, DHS’ assistant commissioner for children and family services, defended the state’s record of investigating child abuse and neglect by pointing to a state audit released in 2012.

That audit found child protection agencies made decisions on whether to investigate in a “reasonable and deliberative manner.”

Sullivan Sutton said screen-outs have nothing to do with caseload or budgetary concerns. Rather, she said the majority of the abuse reports don’t meet the statutory requirements for a county response.

“We cannot intervene or interfere with families unless statutory thresholds are met,” she said.

Sleeping on a sled

Counties fielded reports of possible child abuse or neglect an average of seven times an hour last year in Minnesota, one of the highest rates in the nation. Child protection agencies must determine if those reports meet the legal threshold of abuse. If so, the law requires the agencies to intervene by investigating whether abuse occurred or assessing the child’s safety and risk for maltreatment.

County child protection agencies closed 71 percent of abuse reports without investigation last year. Nationwide, the average number of screened-out calls was 38 percent in 2012.

“It adds up to 22,000 abuse calls a year that in an average state would be screened in,” said Rich Gehrman, the executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, a watchdog group for child welfare.

Nicollet County officials would not talk about the Hauer case, and the family declined to comment through their attorney, Tom Hagen. A public record provided by Gehrman to the Star Tribune shows that the county became aware of possible neglect of the boy in 2007.

“The report was screened by a child protection worker, but it was determined no neglect occurred, so Social Services decided an assessment was not necessary,” according to the record.

Then in October 2011, a ­passerby saw the boy walking by himself along Hwy. 169 and called law enforcement, according to court records. The boy told Nicollet County Chief Deputy Karl Jensen that he was hungry and walking to get a hamburger at a gas station, which Jensen said was about 7 miles from his home. The boy could not identify his parents, so the deputy took the boy to get food.

Jensen said in an interview that he tracked down the boy’s address and took him home. His mother, Jensen said, told the deputy that the boy was being punished and was supposed to be moving wood outside, but walked away when she went to check on their other children.

Jensen said the boy did not appear malnourished at the time, and he did not file a report with child protection.

Investigators later learned that around the time Jensen found the boy, the Hauers began sleeping outside of his room to try to stop him from stealing food, according to court records. They moved the boy to the basement, where an alarm on his door would go off if he left. The boy slept in a plastic container and then a sled because he was wetting the bed. In case he had to relieve himself at night, he was given a bucket, which he had to clean and empty each morning.

In October 2012, Mona Hauer brought the boy to the hospital after finding blood on his shirt. She told doctors that the boy had been regurgitating his food since December 2011. He stayed in the hospital for about a month as doctors worked to bring him up to a normal weight and treated him for brain atrophy and delayed bone growth from malnutrition. The boy told his doctors that he been eating his regurgitated food because he did not know when he would eat again.

After an investigation, Nicollet County moved to terminate the Hauers’ parental rights over the 8-year-old and their other three children. A judge granted the termination for the boy and placed him in foster care, and allowed the Hauers to retain custody of the other children while giving the county protective supervision. In October 2013, the Hauers each pleaded guilty to one count of child neglect.

A judge in February 2014 found that the Hauers were complying with the requirements of the protective supervision.

Gehrman of Safe Passage said the case is an example of the system missing a maltreated child.

Abuse screened out

In 2012, the Minnesota legislative auditor also found problems with the screening system, including wide variations in what reports that counties considered worthy of a response.

The auditor presented 10 sample scenarios to county child protection officials. Among them: A father threatens his son and shoots the family dog in front of him. A father chokes and punches a mother as the kids play video games. A mother drinks too much while caring for her child.

About half of Minnesota counties said they would decline to respond to those cases.

DHS sent out an advisory to counties in early March on what should be done in those cases. Counties should assess or investigate reports of a dog-killing father and a drunken mother. But DHS advised against investigating the case of the mother-abusing father, because no child was maltreated.

A Hennepin County task force in 2011 found that the person who makes the report also influences the decision to investigate. ­People who are not required by law to report abuse or neglect but do so anyway rarely get their complaints investigated, the task force found.

“They could have all of these things that are really concerning,” said Denise Graves, the former head of the task force. “But if they don’t really have explicit details, it won’t get screened in.”

Voluntary assistance

After screening out a report, counties can refer families to voluntary Parent Support Outreach Programs, which began in 38 Minnesota counties in 2005 and have since spread statewide. About 50 percent of families referred to the programs choose to participate, according to DHS.

Joan Najbar, who works with a Twin Cities-based PSOP, worries that counties too often turn to these programs, which she said can be an inappropriate response to children in danger.

“Most Minnesotans assume we have systems in place to help families and keep kids safe,” Najbar said. “We don’t.”

Najbar said Isanti County asked her in February to work with a family that it declined to investigate. Family members reported that the caregiver was drinking daily, kept firearms in his home, and became psychotic and heard voices telling him to kill people when he got drunk, Najbar said.

Najbar said she refused to take the case and asked the county to reconsider its decision to screen out the case. She doesn’t know what has happened to the family since then.

INVISIBLE CHILDREN Traveling campus program


  1. Very annoyed that comments are not allowed on Brandon Stahls articles. People need to discuss the topic of his work!

  2. Yes it would be great to have a public discussion about this. The State And federal government have been forcing a budget saving pollyanna approach to child protection that has resulted in children being at greater risk of abuse. The State has solved the problem of reoccurring abuse by eliminating the need to acknowledge the abuse via the overuse of family assessments.

  3. I think the statement that the childcare providers “gave up” isn’t quite correct. As mandated reporters, the childcare providers have a responsibility to report ANY suspected abuse. I believe the childcare providers became frustrated, but don’t believe they EVER “gave up”.

  4. With all the child endangerment laws you can not tell me that the father should not have been charged with anything this system we have is totally unbelievable and corrupt you can not smoke in a car with a child under 18 but u can allow some woman to abuse and kill your child over a course of 3 yes and not get charged with anything

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