How America Treats Its Children

The recent International Labor Organization study proves that the U.S. is one of three nations on the planet that does not provide some kind of monetary payment to new mothers who’ve taken maternity leave from work. America also provides the least amount of maternity leave among the industrialized (and many emerging and third world) nations.

That is what we think of children in America. New Zealand and Norway provide up to 14 weeks of paid leave, and 70 nations provide paid leave for fathers.

In America, we pay our daycare workers what we pay food service workers (the lowest paid people in the nation) and have almost no requirements for education or training for the difficult and important task of raising our youngest citizens.

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Children In The News (update),

MI: Littlest victims: Here’s one easy way you can (and should) fight child abuse (Includes Video)
mLive – May 01, 2014
This video, titled Make the Call, is a community effort to encourage people to make that call.
http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/05/littlest_victims_heres_one_eas.html

MI: DHS Launches new Child Welfare Software
MI News 26 – April 30, 2014
The DHS used a “soft launch” to debut the new (Michigan Statewide Automated Child Welfare Information System) on Wednesday morning.
http://www.minews26.com/content/?p=31172

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Speaking For The Weakest & Most Vulnerable Among Us – Star Tribune Articles

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,” April 25).

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.

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Another Happy CASA Story

A couple of weeks ago at an “Everyday Courage” event sponsored by the California Endowment I met a very caring and compassionate woman named Rosa Arevalo. Rosa works for CASA of Los Angeles a non-profit organization that recruits, trains, and supports CASA volunteers(Court Appointed Special Advocates) to transform the lives of abused and neglected children. It is the only organization in Los Angeles County providing court-assigned volunteer advocates serving foster children in the dependency court.

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Great News For Colorado’s At Risk Children (child abuse data is now public – people will become aware)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado has created a website that provides the public with child-protection and child-abuse information for each county, the latest in a series of reforms that follow a number of child deaths in the state.

According to reports, 202 children died of abuse or neglect between 2007 and 2013 in Colorado. Among those, 75 had parents or caregivers who were known to the child-welfare system before the child’s death.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to be transparent with the public and to keep our families safe and healthy,” said Julie Krow, director of the Office of Youth and Families in the Colorado Department of Human Services. “This is something we can’t do alone. We need our community to help us.”

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Responding To Toni Carter’s Star Tribune Article Yesterday (County Commissioner & Pres MN Assoc. of Counties)

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.

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More Attention To Children’s Issues (the only way to make their lives better)

Sare the information discovered by Star Tribune writer Brandon Stahl in this article (and his future writings on the topic) with your social media and friends. The more people understand the core issues, the greater the chance that legislators will respond to an educated populace and make the lives of abused and neglected children a little better.

Minnesota now screens out more child abuse cases than 47 other states (this is a terrible fact if you are an abused child).

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Snapshot On Florida’s Child Protection System (or what’s not working)

In the wake of a bloody year for Florida youngsters, lawmakers have pledged to repair the state’s frayed safety net for abused and neglected children.

But as the state’s annual legislative session winds toward the final gavel, many children’s advocates say legislative leaders have failed to match their words with action and fear some proposals may create new problems.

Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $39 million to hire 400 “boots on the ground,” or child abuse investigators who will respond to hotline reports and identify at-risk kids. But investigators typically work with a family for 60 days or less, and then families in need of follow-up help are sent to privately run local agencies.

Those agencies, the governor says, don’t need new money. The agencies counter that if the governor’s plan goes through, their already-backlogged caseloads will swell and families will compete for the services they need to keep children safe. They are asking for $25.4 million more.

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Years Of Ignored Child Abuse In Arizona (why should we care?)

Charles Flanagan, head of the new Division of Child Safety and Family Services, said five were people working for him who were found to have been instrumental in crafting and implementing a policy that resulted in ignoring state laws which require all complaints be investigated.

Flanagan said the firing came after review of an extensive investigation conducted by the state Department of Public Safetyof exactly who was accountable for ignoring the law. He said these are the people most responsible.

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This Week’s News For At Risk Children

VA: State finds Richmond DSS not at fault in two child deaths
WTVR – April 18, 2014
A review conducted by Virginia’s Department of Social Services determined Richmond’s Department of Social Services (RDSS) did not contribute to the death of two children known to RDSS last year. VDSS is reviewing what happened to five children who died since April of last year and were known to RDSS at some point.
https://wtvr.com/2014/04/18/state-finds-richmond-dss-not-at-fault-in-two-child-deaths/

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Tip Of The Iceberg – Medicating Six Year Olds

We forget that before Prozac, there was Thorazine and the side effects were pronounced and obvious. These new drugs are much more insidious in how side effects manifest themselves.

The underlying issues driving dangerous and emotionally charged behaviors in children must be identified and dealt with if mental health is going to be attained. Anything less fails the child and the community.

Public policy assumes that it’s economically way cheaper to provide drugs than really helping a child.

Work done by the medical community and the Federal Reserve proves that building children is much more economically viable than trying to rebuild badly broken adults. In my volunteer work within the system, I’ve seen it born out again and again.

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See No Evil – 90% Of Child Abuse Reports Screened Out In Minnesota Counties (Red Lake, Wilkin, LeSeur, Waseca)

Today’s Star Tribune *article draws attention to the thousands of children that are neglected, abused, traumatized enough to be seen and reported by others. The vast majority of child abuse is never seen and never reported.

Minnesota, decided that denying children safety saves money. Statewide our screened out average is 71% compared to the national average of 38%. It is one thing to read about the horrid conditions facing babies and children, another to meet the child and see what sex, starvation, neglect, or other forms of violence actually does to a 5 or 10 year old child

I’ve written about the 7 year old foster child that hung himself and left a note about Prozac and visited a 4 year old in a hospital suicide ward.

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Yesterday’s State Of The Child Summit (Children In Legal Proceedings) at Hamline University

It was the simple truths that struck me hardest as I listened to the Hamline University presenters yesterday. I was reminded of MN’s former Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz statement that “90% of the youth in juvenile justice have come through child protection”, and that, ” The difference between that poor child and a felon, is about eight years”. The pipeline to prison starts here.

Behavior problems in schools are not well served by hiring more police officers. As a long time guardian ad-Litem, it is apparent to me how authority figures are viewed by abused and neglected children (a big segment of the behavioral problems at school). It has hurt me to see well meaning officers treated horridly by abused children through no fault of their own. Traumatized kids lash out at authority and take no prisoners. This gets them in big trouble and their behavior problems get worse, not better. Police interactions are often just one more trauma to be suffered by an abused child. Don’t blame the police – they didn’t set this system up.

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From Our Friends At Safe Passage For Children (today’s Safe Passage message)

The Metric that Matters

I have a friend who thinks government can always cut more staff. I told him when child protection investigators get more than 4-5 new cases a week they become ineffective.

He grudgingly conceded “I guess there have to be some metrics”.

Minnesota tried to keep this caseload ‘metric’ manageable last year by only responding to 28% of maltreatment reports, compared to 62% nationally. This means 21,960 children didn’t get a needed visit from a child protection worker.

Sorry, but fixing this will require adding staff, because decisions to investigate families and potentially even remove children can’t really be privatized.

We have to put aside reservations about ‘big’ government and help counties excel at this work so we can achieve the metric that matters: as many safe children as possible.

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CASA Guardian ad-Litem Distinctions (clarity on different kinds of guardian ad-Litems)

There are three very different kinds of guardian ad-Litem; Volunteer, Staff, and Lawyer.

1) Volunteer CASA GALs generally take just a few cases and get to know the families and children in the court proceedings very well. CASA stands for, Court Appointed Special Advocate. as a CASA GAL, I had fifty children in my case load over twelve years. Some of those children stayed with me over the entire twelve years. I knew them and their families very well.

2) Staff GALs are given case loads similar to case loads that social workers are given. In my experience, staff GALs have more cases and less time per child/case.

3) Attorneys are paid by the County or by the parent depending on the state. In my experience, attorneys rarely visit the family, and generally meet the child for the first time at court.

Feel free to add clarifications to this posting if I’ve missed something or you disagree with me.

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In Defense Of People Doing The Work

It hurts me to hear destructive criticisms about how teachers are the cause of badly performing schools, social workers blamed when a baby dies a horrid death while under County supervision, and most recently an all out diatribe against the uncaring volunteer guardian ad-Litems in America.
These professions are not entered for the great wealth or social prestige that accompany the difficult work that come with the job. Educators are dealing with mental health issues, the impact of poverty, abuse, and homelessness as our society becomes less well off, and recently, less well governed. Social workers are expected to work miracles with terrifically damaged children in toxic homes, drug and violence issues, huge caseloads, and few resources to fix anything.

Volunteer guardian ad-Litems work with badly damaged children trying to guide them through a complex and bureaucratic court system in the hopes of saving them from both the system and the traumas they have suffered from.

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CASA Guardian ad-Litem Stories

A twenty something prostitute was brought into the system with a four year old boy (whose guardian ad-Litem I became). The boy knew five languages and had perfect behavior. He was a beautiful child.

Violence and repeated arrests for prostitution, drugs, and child endangerment had brought them into the system. Mom was reasonable, very intelligent, and like all moms, in love with her little boy.

After two months of coffee and visits, she began to understand the life her boy would lead because she could not give up her addiction to drugs and prostitution and asked her father to adopt her boy. Dad was so happy (and a wonderful fellow).

This is the happiest story I have.

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KARA Talk Monday Night In Stillwater (7pm)

Friends of Kids At Risk Action, board member Tiffini Flynn Forslund & I present our INVISIBLE CHILDREN talk at the Critical Thinkers Club in Stillwater Monday night April 14th at 7pm.
The meeting is held at the FamilyMeans Bldg., 1875 Northwestern Ave (opposite the Stillwater Water Tower). Here are driving directions:

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Help Wanted Volunteer Staff Writer (for Sad Stories and CASA pages)

Would you like to do more for at risk kids? Can you commit to four hours weekly for at least the next 3 months, to rewrite the information that I gather for these pages?

Review them; CASA News Sad Stories, and contact me if this fits your style and competency.

Buy our book or donate

Sample 4 minute video of Mike’s awesome talk on child protection in America (invite me to speak at your conference – Mike@invisiblechildren.org )

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Making Children Whole (with the help of the community)

Think what you might about the unborn, it seems only fair that a living breathing baby should have the right to basic health care (if only to continue breathing).

It is terrifically expensive to treat the chronic illness and behavioral problems that blossom out of children born into toxic and unhealthy circumstances where mom’s without parenting skills, or coping skills, eat poorly, drink excessively and often have serious mental health issues. Many of the moms I’ve known from child protection were the fourth or fifth generation of abused girls having their own families of abused children. Without help from the community, their children never break out of toxic birth home environments and never learn the skills they need to live a productive life.

Crisis nurseries and subsidized quality daycare make up for some of the problems these children live with in the home. Coping skills are not delivered by the stork but they can be gleaned from other care providers (if the community reaches out).

In my lengthy Protestant upbringing, I can only remember a Jesus that wanted to provide for the weakest and most vulnerable among us – especially children.

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Why Teachers Quit Teaching

When I first began teaching more than 25 years ago, hands-on exploration, investigation, joy and love of learning characterized the early childhood classroom. I’d describe our current period as a time of testing, data collection, competition and punishment. One would be hard put these days to find joy present in classrooms.

I think it started with No Child Left Behind years ago. Over the years I’ve seen this climate of data fascination seep into our schools and slowly change the ability for educators to teach creatively and respond to children’s social and emotional needs. But this was happening in the upper grades mostly. Then it came to kindergarten and PreK, beginning a number of years ago with a literacy initiative that would have had us spending the better part of each day teaching literacy skills through various prescribed techniques. ”What about math, science, creative expression and play?” we asked. The kindergarten teachers fought back and kept this push for an overload of literacy instruction at bay for a number of years.

Next came additional mandated assessments. Four and five year olds are screened regularly each year for glaring gaps in their development that would warrant a closer look and securing additional supports (such as O.T, P.T, and Speech Therapy) quickly. Teachers were already assessing each child three times a year to understand their individual literacy development and growth. A few years ago, we were instructed to add periodic math assessments after each unit of study in math. Then last year we were told to include an additional math assessment on all Kindergarten students (which takes teachers out of the classroom with individual child testing, and intrudes on classroom teaching time.)

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Thank You Safe Passage For Children

As a long time CASA guardian ad-Litem who finds it impossible to believe that the depth and scope of child abuse in my community (both local and national) is largely unspoken until some poor child is found in a dumpster or has his brains bashed out against a wall by a caregiver, I am excited by the efforts to quantify these sad facts by Safe Passages For Children.

It is precisely because we don’t keep track, or if we do, don’t publish the mountain of unhappy things happening to our children. If these things were recorded, reported, and discussed, our institutions could function more effectively and children would be much safer and happier.

What follows is a major effort by Rich Gehrman and Safe Passages For Children to identify the tip of this iceberg (thank you Rich and company)

Please sign our petition for safe and healthy MN children (even if you are not from MN)

Petition to make health, education, and well being available to all MN children

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Bad Day In The News For At Risk Children

image001Friends of KARA, please appreciate that these children don’t get much press and aside from the blaming of caregivers and social workers, not much investigating is done and few solutions are offered. The issues are uncomfortable and seldom spoken of which is why the problem of child abuse is epidemic in America.

As a longtime CASA guardian ad-Litem, it hurts me that the millions of terribly injured children are so under our radar.

What follows are some of today’s child tragedies (and a first nation’s report of child death over the years).  Please feel free to send me articles from your community.  The only way life can be improved for abused and neglected children is if we record and talk about these things.

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