RECENT DOCUMENTARY INTERVIEWS (David Strand)

The 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 them.

We have the highest rate of child poverty among the industrialized nations, charge 25% of our youth in adult courts (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).

If you want to know how other industrialized nations value children, ask David Strand. David helped form public policy for children over the ten years he lived 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. NATION OUT OF STEP was the title of his book and it clearly articulated the falling quality of life measurements resulting from failed or non existent public policies regarding 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 have those our failures.

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

hank 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.

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.

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

A central theme in the April 20 article “7 of 10 abuse calls not checked” was that Minnesota counties appear to “screen out” more reported cases of child abuse than other states, and that the percentage of cases that are closed without investigation varies between Minnesota counties. But it’s important to look beyond the data points to the data collection to understand these differences.

Increases in the statewide “screen out” rate from 2000-2010 may reflect changes in data recording practices rather than changes in agencies’ screening decisions. In 1999 a new data reporting system was implemented. As counties became more adept at using the new system the amount of data reporting increased. However, the actual number of reports “screened out” did not.

Despite the resulting higher “screen out” rate, Minnesota did the same number of assessments per year from 1996-2010, with a low of 16,384 in 2001 and a high of 19,846 in 2006, even though our child population is decreasing. While serving the same number of families, counties now document information received in a more consistent manner.

We believe it’s misleading to compare Minnesota screening practices to other states because of the variation in state laws, data collection systems and data retention practices.

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Thank You Ruben Rosario

In 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.

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.

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It’s Worse In Texas

Minnesota 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 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 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.

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

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)

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

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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. 

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

The 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).

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

Brandon 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.

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

Minnesota’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 complains 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,

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Brandon Stahl Reports (reporting on the reporter)

ois 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.

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Another Avoidable Child Death

Gordon 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 an abusive family home.

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Why Are So Many Six Year Olds On Prozac?

Hennepin 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.

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

Thank 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 the bleeding and bruises that had been visited on a helpless child but even these mandated reporters finally gave up when they realized that Pope County Child Protection had no intention of taking any action to save the child.

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

29% of abused 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 families reported for abuse receive services

The waiting list for subsidized daycare 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.

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

Today’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.

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Don Samuels’ Story

As part of KARA’s TPT documentary project I interviewed Minneapolis City Councilman / Mayoral candidate Don Samuels recently. He described his experiences as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, North Side resident, and city councilman that were relevant to child well-being and child protection.
Don had a powerful observations about how much better it would be for children and the community if our child protection system concentrated on the needs of that at risk child at the moment of need instead of the systematic institutional approach that occurred each time he (Don) saw a child engaged in the child protection system.

He spoke of being in the courtroom representing a child as a CASA guardian ad-Litem, noting that the child had an attorney, the mother and father each had attorneys (they were divorced), there were social workers and a health worker for the child, the County Attorney, and the usual bailiff, Judge, and courtroom staff, and the huge costs related to all these people in this courtroom trying to make justice happen (not necessarily in the best interest of the child).

The Don Samuels story that will stick with me forever is the five year old boy (call him James) trying to commit suicide by jumping out a third story window at school. Because the boy’s teacher could find no mental health resources for this child, she called her City Council member, Don Samuels for help. Don became involved with James over about fifteen years years and came to know the traumatic life the boy lived and the very bad outcomes James kept having from the institutional care he had received.

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Founder of ACEsTooHigh and ACEsConnection Jane Stevens

The ACEs scoring is hugely important and with attention to and implementation of the programs and disciplines that reverse or mitigate the terrible impact of childhood trauma our communities will see an improvement in graduation rates, a decline in crime and prison populations, much safer and happier neighborhoods.

The opposite side of this approach are DR. Bruce Perry’s words that if these issues are not addressed, “25% of Americans will be special needs people by the end of this generation”. He spoke that sentence 8 years ago. And he & the medical community have more than adequate research to back up that statement.

Jane Stevens s the most informed and articulate person I’ve listened to in this field. She has a unique perspective as a researcher/reporter who has read and studied the huge volume of information not just from a single aspect of child abuse and neglect, but from the various institutional perspectives as well as how different communities within the states are using or not using and the results the states are seeing with the use or non-use of the ACEs research and recommendations.

If you read nothing else today, introduce yourself to www.ACEsTooHigh and http://www.acesconnection.com/

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KARA -TPT Television Documentary Update

Saturday, August 16th KARA concluded the fourth in a series of professionally conducted video interviews being scheduled for our TPT documentary partnership (seven people/about fourteen hours of interview to date).

KARA’s strategy for the program is to blend the perspectives and insights of the children, families, child protection workers, along with other involved professionals by sharing experience within the child protection system to identify what works and what needs to be changed.

We are discovering through this process just how hard people are trying and it is becoming apparent that awareness, discussion, and change are needed.

KARA and TPT’s underlying hope for this project is to identify and discuss the critical issues that need the attention of the public and policy makers to drive changes that will create better outcomes for abused and neglected children.

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The Most Important Child Friendly Sites of This Week

http://acestoohigh.com/ Read a few of these smart and powerful articles and you will know more about at risk children’s issues than anyone on your block.

http://safepassagemn.com/landing-page.html This video will be the best six minutes you can spend this week.

We are all in this together. Let’s all pull in the right direction (pro child) Support KARA’s TPT documentary project

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Guardian ad Litems Exchanging Stories & Ideas

Share this link with your guardian ad-Litem and social worker friends For current and former guardian ad-Litem/social workers, join our interactive Linked In Group,  and share your experiences and ideas about how to make child protection work better for children.  Change happens when concerned people give their ideas and energy.  Help KARA make it happen…

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KARA tpt Progress Report

Tony Fischer and Tiffini Flynn Forslund conducted KARA’s first interview (of many being scheduled) with St Paul School Board, Vice Chair Keith Hardy.
Keith Hardy. Keith Hardy setting his sights even higher

Keith knows how abused and neglected children need help to achieve the outcomes necessary to succeed in school and he has solid ideas for improving outcomes for both children and schools.

This was a great beginning to exploring issues impacting at risk children and what needs to happen to make life better for children, our communities, and our institutions.

The systemic issues that affect our schools are key to changing the same systemic problems in our society.

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Powerful Stories From The Atlantic Journal (here’s a preview)

Working with abused and neglected children and dysfunctional families is complex and grueling and needs more not less understanding and support.

Blaming social workers when a baby is found in a dumpster is not so different for blaming teachers for failed schools.

Troubled students not only don’t learn, they disrupt and make teaching the rest of the class much more difficult.

This is not so different from blaming law enforcement for the boy in the squad car (admit it, that would be ridiculous – but the analogy works in both prior examples).

Support teachers, support social workers, support justice workers. It is very hard work inside of institutions with very bad governance (and that my friends is our fault).

Support KARA’S TPT documentary project to bring these issues into the limelight and help our children get a fair start in life.

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