On The Death Of 6 Year Old Kendrea Johnson (another perspective)

Strangled dead tangled in a jump rope is not something that happens to six year old children (Star Tribune today) Thank you Star Tribune for giving voice to the voiceless children of Minnesota.

As a Hennepin County CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I watched abused and neglected children, traumatized children, whether they be two, four, or six years old, do terribly destructive things and try to kill themselves. My first visit to a four year old CASA case girl was at the suicide ward of Fairview hospital. She had watched the beatings and rape of her mother and sister (who was three years older than her) for most of her four years on earth. Think of the terror going through a child’s mind watching drug crazed, violent, and sexual abuse of your mom and sister. It changes a person.

I’ve written about the seven year old foster boy who hung himself and left a note about how he hated being forced to take Prozac. Children in foster care are often medicated to keep them from hurting themselves and others. You really don’t get into foster care unless you have been traumatized and behavioral issues are endemic to trauma victims. A very real side effect of psychotropic medications is suicidal ideation (fully formed thoughts of killing yourself, delivered by your brain – like a daytime nightmare).
The article in the Tribune makes Kendrea’s death sound like a pretty normal young child accident (Wow). Her younger brother was born drug addicted (the womb has no barrier to protect an infant from drugs and alcohol). Kendrea had been in a number of foster homes (one of my CASA case boys had been in 29 foster placements when he aged out of child protection). This death was not normal. Traumatized children need our help. Tens of thousands of MN children are victims of the kind of abuse Kendrea lived with all of her young life. Very few of them find the help they need to live a normal life. It would be the right thing to do to deliver these children the help they need to make sure they do not injure themselves or others with dangerous behaviors.

Remember friends, we only read about the children that die.

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Kids At Risk Action TV Interview Shorts (for the record)

Abused and neglected children need our voices.

KARA is working with TPT TV to give them a loud and clear voice &

a path to a safer, better life.

Below are short clips from KARA’s documentary project

Watch & Help KARA make this happen.

These brief (2 minutes each) video interview excerpts tell powerful stories of child abuse and child protection in our community.

Share these links with your friends and networks & remember KARA presentations for your next community, religious or business event topic.

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Withholding Medical Care From Children – Is It Legal? (faith based child death – is it murder?)

Over the years KARA has followed the deaths of children dying because their parents withhold medical treatments because of religious beliefs. Beliefs similar to those that prompted the hanging and burning of innocent women as witches in Salem not that long ago.

It is hard to believe current laws deny minimal standards of health and well being for their youngest citizens.

Some states foster very child unfriendly laws concerning access to prenatal care, child health insurance or punishment for withholding available medical care from very ill children based on religious beliefs.

Are children property to be denied readily available medical care?

How often and how hard can you hit your toddler (ten times and leave them bleeding in Kansas and without healthcare )?

Can they be executed for rebellious behavior (Arkansas thought so)

What follows are some of the children that have died because parents refused their children medical care over the past few years. If your state allows the burning of witches or withholding medical care to children make a call to your state representative/Governor, and let your opinion be known.

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Nancy Zupfer Has It Right (Governor’s task force should represent children – not agencies and parents)

Nancy Zupfer Has It Right (Governor’s task force should represent children – not agencies and parents)

Star Tribune Today, Nancy’s observations that child protection protects state and county agencies, and parents and abused and negelcted children “seem to be collateral” has been my experience as a long-time volunteer guardian ad-Litem.

It has always hurt me to see the physical reality of traumatized children in yet another foster home (29 placements for one boy) or failing to make an adoption work or painfully waiting for life to improve as she sits at St Joe’s Home For Children or other short term care facility.

The problems facing these kids are real and require significant resources and thinking to improve their lives. That our complicated overwrought institutions give these kids very little voice, no rights, and protect agencies and parents over the well-being of children is a real poke in the eye to youth that have already been dragged through often unspeakable experiences (generally over years).

As our televised interviews with adoptive parents move forward, we are hearing more stories and seeing more and more examples of hammer wielding agencies using harsh and abusive tactics to protect their reputations instead of recognizing and providing for the serious issues facing families that adopt traumatized youth.
Do we value children as a community? If we did, we would have more crisis nurseries, subsidized daycare, and a more transparent and robust child protection system that focused on the needs of the child.

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Abused To Death While Child Protective Services Observed – 1000+ American Children in six years (AP report)

Brandon Stahl, the intrepid Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter spoke to KARA on camera about how difficult he found it to gather information on abused and murdered children in MN. Not making public information relevant to how a child died serves no good purpose. Who are we protecting by this secrecy?

When there is transparency, issues can be identified, addressed, and resolved. Until then, America’s child protection issues will remain under-reported, under-discussed, under-addressed, misunderstood, and never resolved.

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Is Minnesota Setting A “Great” Example For Dealing With Child Protection Issues?

With Governor Dayton’s Task Force recommendations reported in today’s Star Tribune article (Dayton’s Task Force Agrees On Overhaul, Brandon Stahl), I am optimistic that this (“great” example) approach to child well being could become a reality.

Ten years ago, the father of one of my family’s Mexican foreign exchange students explained how he (as a State of Sinaloa Legislator) had traveled to MN and CA to review child protection systems. At the time, these were the two states he deemed to have the most advanced and effective systems in the nation.

MN has at one time done child protection as well or better than any other state – when reviewed by someone without bias.
MN had reduced child protection funding by over forty million dollars these past few years. This explains sad stories like Eric Dean’s death after fifteen (ignored) reports of abuse by mandated reporters and why family assessments replaced child protection, why social workers are shorted training, process, and resources needed to effect the change that could heal toxic families or provide safety to their young charges.

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Support MN CASA Guardian ad-Litem Program (with a year end gift)

support CASA MN with a year end gift here;

“To give a child a volunteer advocate is to give them a voice. To give them a voice is to give them hope, and to give them hope is to give them the world.

I believe that with all my heart.”

Pamela Butler, Former Foster Child

At CASA Minnesota we believe that every child deserves a voice. CASA volunteers provide the voice for children who are experiencing times of great vulnerability due to abuse and neglect. Support from people like you means that we can assist in recruiting committed advocates to be that voice for children involved in juvenile court proceedings. Your tax-deductible investment in our nonprofit program allows us to provide resources to enhance recruitment, training, retention and support for more than 470 CASA Minnesota volunteers every year – caring, knowledgeable people who make sure the best interests of these children are served.

Thanks to support from our community, our volunteers are the dedicated champions that children need while facing the unknown. Consider Janell. She was just over four years old when she entered the court system. Sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend, parental rights were eventually terminated when reunification was not an option. Her volunteer advocate saw a solution. He was vocal in supporting adoption by her foster mother with whom Janell had developed a strong attachment. Now 11 years old, Janell plays acoustic guitar, writes songs, does yoga with her adoptive mom, plays basketball and soccer, and likes math and reading. She is able to see her siblings on a regular basis as well. Without a volunteer advocate taking part in this process, this may not have been a successful outcome for this child.

Our mission at CASA Minnesota is to assist in recruiting, training and supporting the important volunteers who advocate for abused and neglected children like Janell. Will you please consider a year-end gift to help us continue our important work? Your donation will make it possible for us to give a voice of hope to children and support for those who serve them. You can change the life of a child in need. You can give by going to https://givemn.org/organization/Casa-Minnesota .

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International Rights of the Child Treaty (U.S. & Somalia the only countries not signed on)

Over 25 years ago the rest of the world (194 nations) decided that children have basic human rights and begin signing the International Rights of the Child Treaty. Under this document, children are to have the rights to education, safety and well being including not to be made soldiers, not to be enslaved).

America is the only nation that has not signed that agreement, largely because we still demand that southern states continue to militarize youth as young as eleven, through military schools.

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Comment on Brandon Stahl’s Friday article on uninvestigated child sex abuse cases 12/5/14

I’ve taken from Brandon Stahl’s article on uninvestigated child sex abuse cases that someone has decided that children reported as sexually abused before 2013 will go uninvestigated and stay where they are (even if they are still being sexually abused) as the County doesn’t see it important to put resources to finding out if these children are still endangered.

In my caseload as a CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem, I know children as young as two who were sexually abused – and the resulting traumas that followed them for life. They deserve to be rescued.

I find this cheap, short sighted policy making appalling and I know that it is much more costly to ignore them than to do the right thing.

Will someone besides Brandon Stahl please speak out for these kids?

What kind of a community writes off the worst kinds of child abuse for relatively modest financial reasons?

Any investigation into the financial aspects of these bad decisions will discover that we do not save money by allowing children to remain in horridly abusive homes.

These are the kids with severe behavioral problems and poor coping skills that fail in our schools, become preteen moms, adolescent felons, and make our communities unhealthy and unsafe.

What costs money are failing schools, unsafe streets, prisons and recidivism (70% nationally).

What a cold hard people we have become (and bad at math).

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Child Death Reviews Thwarted in Edmonton (council chair quits in protest)

Dr Lionel Dibden resigned his chairmanship of the Council for Quality Assurance Nov 27th due to lack of transparency and limiting the scope of child fatality reviews. These are the problems facing all child protection service providers. Which children should be reviewed, what should accountability look like, and who should have access to information?

Tough questions – unless seen through the eyes of a child.

A community that hides information that is screaming for attention serves neither the child nor the community. Schools suffer as abused children carry their traumas with them into the classroom, communities suffer because traumatized youth commit crimes and suffer pregnancy and disease at very high rates, and prisons are expensive. Recidivism in the U.S. has reached 70%. Worst of all, the extreme suffering I have witnessed during my years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem. The unspeakable horrors committed on children who were unlucky enough to be born into toxic homes (lasts forever).

Support KARA’s efforts to bring awareness and change to child protection through our documentary project

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It Happens Over and Over (profound child abuse – child death – inadequate reporting & response)

This is my take from Brandon’s article of Nov 30th (linked above)

Minnesota’s recent brutal murder of 4 year old Eric Dean after 14 ignored reports of child abuse by mandated reporters (and one family assessment) is becoming just one of thousands of cruel stories articulating the low value our nation places on children being exposed by Brandon’s continued research and writing.

As American’s talk big about how we value children and our religious affiliations are many, but there really is very little child protection in the U.S.

Watching this over many years as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem causes me great pain and it is only recently that I have found any hope that conditions might change for the weakest and most vulnerable among us.

MN has tried to reform its child protection system 3 times in the last 25 years, 16 state and county agencies across the nation have resigned or been fired (mostly after the death of children they were hired to protect).

In Maine, it is estimated that up to 70% of abused to death children were known to child protection agencies. In Arizona, 6000 child abuse reports were ignored by the agencies and many children died. Florida reported almost five hundred children killed while known to child protection (since 2008).

What follows is my past reporting on how various states treat their youngest citizens;

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Recent Mental Health Guidelines For Psychotropic Medications and Three Year Olds (I certainly don’t like them)

MN DHS, MN legislature, treatment guidelines, collaborative psychiatric consultation, high dose ADHD & sga drugs, medical assistance, fee for service, add protocol, pediatricians, family practice physicians, psychiatrists, child protection, state ward children, gabriel myers

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Dear Governor Dayton’s Task Force On Child Protection (for the record)

Dear Governor’s Task Force People,

I’ve been a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem since 1996 and witnessed many terrible things being done to children both in and out of child protective services (none of them ever made the paper or received any public awareness). I helped found and remain on the board at CASA MN and wrote the book INVISIBLE CHILDREN on this topic in 2005.

Nothing in this letter is meant to reflect badly on adoptive or foster families, GALs/social workers, the courts/police/juvenile justice, educators, task force members, or others directly involved in trying to help children in need of protection. We are doing what we can with the training, resources, and understanding we have.

This letter is intended to bring to your attention the depth and scope of the problems and the high level failures that cause the terrible data and Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language for describing child protection in MN. I have inserted a few personal CASA stories (MT) to exhibit specific system faults that need addressing by your task force.

Until Brandon Stahl took it upon himself to convince his employer (the Star Tribune) that this story was worth covering, no one paid any attention to child protection. Eric Utne of the Utne Reader told me ten years ago that there was no public appetite for this topic and it would ruin his magazine if he printed my stories. The Star Tribunes extensive reporting is a rare and positive turn of events that may not be repeated for a very long time.

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7$ Child Daycare? (hint – gotta go north)

It’s over now, but for years, universal child daycare has been the rule (at $7.30) in Quebec.

I just can’t help pointing out that some of our neighbors to the North feel very strongly that children’s daycare is worth government subsidy. $75,000 is the low income threshold and $200,000 is the high income threshold.

True, the politics of public service have beat up the program and $20 is becoming the new norm.

Keep in mind that over time, children in quality day care thrive, learn important stuff, and perhaps more importantly, don’t smoke crack cocaine with their out of jail uncle why mom works.

The U.S. expels more children from daycare than any other nation (and has for some time). It’s an issue that bodes badly for the poor educators that later serve these children in public schools and goes a very long way in explaining America’s suffering graduation rates, high crime, and prison populations.
If we valued children half as much as we claim to, there would not be 8000+ children on waiting lists in MN for subsidized daycare.

Do you know who your state legislator is? This will not change until some of us make that call. Share this widely.

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5 Worst States For Child Homelessness (35% of Mississippi Children Are Impoverished)

Roses on WallFrom the National Center On Family Homelessness;

California has over 500,000 children children lacking stable housing.

35% of Mississippi’s children live in poverty.

Arkansas, Alabama, & New Mexico have the next highest rates of child poverty and homelessness in the nation.

Homelessness leads to mental health issues, crime, school problems (low performance and graduation rates).  Children in poverty with poor living conditions suffer from multiple stresses that last a lifetime.

No one wins when children that can’t cope with their surroundings become adults that can’t cope with their surroundings.  We all benefit when children can become productive members of the community leading healthy lives.  Read the report here.

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We’re Number One (America leads the world in the wrong things)

We are now number one in child homelessness; one in thirty kids – 2.5 million American children, experienced homelessness last year.

Many states don’t offer children insurance, daycare, prenatal care, or healthcare and parental leave for new babies is off the table in half the states.

The U.S is well known for having the highest child poverty rate among advanced nations.

States that don’t offer prenatal care, daycare, insurance, or housing for 2 year olds cost themselves in the long run in crime, prisons, and dysfunctional adults (the opposite of taxpaying, productive citizens). I maintain that those states are filled with legislators that can’t add. If they could, they would see the terrific long term costs unhealthy children without coping skills cost their communities in crime, prisons, health care and extreme costs to schools and social services in their communities (and they make for really unhappy/unsafe communities).

Unhealthy and unprepared children explain our why our schools repeatedly rank at the bottom with reading, math, science, history test scores and our graduation rates remain among the lowest of the industrialized nations.

Today’s Star Tribune article by Daniel Heimpel on creating an Office Of Child Protection is a great idea but long term probabilities for its success are not very good.

Children can’t vote and adults are mostly given to fist shaking and blaming if reminded of institutional failures when a child is found in a dumpster or dead after fifteen reports of child abuse. States will fight for their rights to not provide insurance, prenatal care, or child protection and make it sound like they are “saving families” in the process. A child protection Czar would be busy 24 / 7 fighting state by state with Louisiana, Mexico, South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and a handful of others that are really committed to policies of ignoring poor families, child death, child mortality, child poverty, and uninsured children.

I like the idea of protecting children and creating a child protection Czar, but Hercules died a very long time ago and I don’t know who else could fight that fight.

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KARA’s Brandon Stahl Reader (compiled and annotated Star Tribune articles by Brandon Stahl on child abuse & child protection for the record)

For many months now, the Star Tribune’s intrepid reporter Brandon Stahl has been researching and writing about the depth and scope of problems facing MN’s abused and neglected children.

This page is dedicated to Brandon’s work and the thousands of children that pass through child protection services each year in MN (and the thousands of abused/traumatized children that need help but are ignored).

Most of the disturbing information Brandon uncovered in his reporting is hidden and would never have been known without his persistence and hard work. Our child protection systems are practiced in not making information easy to find.

I have spent many years as a volunteer in the field of child protection looking for this kind of information and been unable to discover even a fraction of what Brandon Stahl has made public by his reporting.

This CASA guardian ad-Litem is cautiously optimistic that Governor Dayton (and other public figures) are speaking out* about the lack of public awareness, poor public policy, and resulting institutional failures that are ruining so many lives and so directly contributing to trouble in our schools and on our streets (and the racial disparity this state is so well known for).

For the first time in my memory, the important issues of child abuse and child protection have become serious front page news and there is a possibility that Governor Dayton’s task force will ultimately bring about critical changes needed to improve the lives of children born into toxic homes.

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Child Abuse Stories Across the Nation

MN: Lessons from child abuse deaths go unheeded in Minnesota (Opinion)
Minneapolis Star Tribune – November 09, 2014
A Star Tribune examination of state and county records shows little evidence that the mortality reviews are stopping child protection failures. The reviews often take years to complete – and sometimes do not occur at all. What’s more, findings from such reviews are frequently sealed off from public scrutiny, despite a federal law requiring more disclosure.
http://www.startribune.com/local/282031701.html

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Elephant In The Room (Mitch Pearlstein PAST Star Tribune)

As a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem lobbying for the removal of children from toxic homes, I saw many examples of children left in the care of drunk/drugged uncles and boyfriends while a poverty or near poverty parental caregiver went to work each day. These children are many times more likely to be abused, traumatized (and killed) than other children.

Life is better for children in “higher income two person households” and that to ”investigate and punish” moms and dads that molest and torture their children doesn’t fix the issue. The fact that many families can’t afford quality daycare, have not access to crisis nurseries or mental health services rarely gets attention – things that would have far greater impact making health families than money spent on a punishment model.

If we value children as a community, let’s become like the majority of the other industrialized nations and make crisis nurseries, adequate mental health services and quality daycare a part of our culture.

It is mean and counterproductive for an advanced nation to build a child care system that leaves 3 and 4 year old’s in the care of unstable or dangerous people because there are no other alternatives (and on top of that, blame them for the very circumstances that are hurting them).

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Child Protection News – Your State Here (Texas and Florida are tied once more)

Medical News Today – October 09, 2014
More than half of federal and state prisoners are parents of nearly 1.5 million minor children, and one-fifth of prisoners have children under the age of five. Children of incarcerated parents are more likely to have witnessed criminal activity and/or the arrest of the parent, both of which have been shown by researchers to have unique effects undermining children’s socio-emotional and behavioral adjustment. Also: Empowering Our Young People, and Stemming the Collateral Damage of Incarceration: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/10/08/empowering-our-young-people-and-stemming-collateral-damage-incarceration Information Gateway Resources: Children in Out-of-Home Care With Incarcerated Parents: https://www.childwelfare.gov/outofhome/casework/children/incarcerated.cfm
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/283562.php?tw

US: Childhood psychological abuse as harmful as sexual or physical abuse
EurekAlert! – October 08, 2014
Children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems as children who are physically or sexually abused, yet psychological abuse is rarely addressed in prevention programs or in treating victims, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-10/apa-cpa100814.php

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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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RECENT DOCUMENTARY INTERVIEWS (Brandon Stahl)

KARA’s interview of Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl was riveting. The discovery process that Brandon followed to unearth the tragedy that was Eric Dean’s life and death is a compelling drama all by itself. When he got to the part about reviewing the autopsy photos of this traumatized and tortured four year old boy Brandon choked up (as did everyone else on the set).

We the public will never see those photos. These pictures were deemed to be too disturbing to print (we need to be protected from the actual photos of what happened to Eric Dean). The public’s memory of little Eric Dean is the smiling boy in colorful clothes with bite marks on his face and a broken arm.

Brandon’s description of the autopsy photos reminded me of the seven year old guardian ad-Litem case child that had spent four years tied to bed, sexually abused, beaten and starved and covered from head to foot with bruises, welts, and cuts when he entered child protection. My little friend is alive today, but he carries his many mental and physical traumas with him every where he goes. None of the horrid stories I encountered as a guardian ad-Litem ever made the paper.

Brandon explained what it’s like to get information from agencies that would rather not give it. He pointed out that the average person would most likely become frustrated and give up as the process is very tedious, very frustrating, and very expensive.
This story would not have ever made the newspaper if the Star Tribune had not supported Brandon with thousands of dollars to spend on the simple information requests that allowed this reporter to piece together the complex series of events that lead to the murder of a four year old little boy over a two year period. Each report of Eric’s abuse (15) by mandated reporters, what steps were taken by the County to see that the child was safe (one ineffective/useless family assessment where the question of whether the boy had been abused was never raised).

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