Why CASA Guardian ad-Litem?

After years of watching and working as a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem in child protection two things have become clear to me;

1) Abused and neglected children really do need a CASA guardian ad-litem advocate &

2) The system really needs insiders to speak loudly and repeatedly about the real world of America’s child protection system. Workers within the system (besides volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litems) find it politically unwise to say things that reflect badly on the system (at the risk of losing their jobs). Volunteers have

As much as I respect the very hard work done by dedicated case workers (I mean every word of that – there is no harder work), case loads are too high, resources are too slim and few will risk their jobs to speak out about individual or system failures.

If I could change one thing in child protection today it would be the transparency, tracking and accountability that would come from the speaking out by those who witness these travesties every day.

The reason our communities don’t have crisis nurseries, quality daycare and other child friendly programs that would promote learning and coping skills and launch at risk youth into productive lives is that we don’t talk about it. When you don’t talk about it, it does not exist.

“it” being the suicide by seven year old’s on Prozac, sexual abuse and repeated horrific violence against six year old’s that we see when they finally make it into Child Protection.

The only thing the public knows about the at risk children we see every day are the kids that die when the media brings it to public attention (generally showing a glaring system failure but solving nothing).

Until Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune made a focus on just how bad life was for poor four year old Eric Dean, media coverage about child abuse was almost non existent. It is only because of this reporters consistent and intrepid work that Governor Dayton’s “colossal failure” language formed a task force that brought public attention to absurd policies and gross negligence that desperately needed changing, that change happened.

My point is that until a thing is spoken of it does not exist and nothing is going to change. The public has a short memory and the media won’t be here for long.

If all the public knows is that eight very young children have been murdered by their parents and caregivers since Eric Dean’s death after 15 largely ignored reports of child abuse – it is a much smaller problem than the horrific stories that accompany a very large percentage of the tens of thousands of children reported to child protection in MN each year (and the 6 million children reported nationally each year).

Maybe I’m an unreasonable optimist – but if more people were aware of the cyclical nature of child abuse, the prevalence and dangers* of medicating abused children with powerful anti-psychotic drugs (instead of adequate life changing therapies), how common life threatening behaviors are to damaged children and just how costly, impactful and long lasting abuse is for the thousands of children passing through Child Protection every year – we would support programs that would save those children from the terrors they have lived with and will continue to live with (and pass onto their children and the next generation).

All adults are the protectors of all children (thank you Don Shelby)

*about one third of children in child protection systems are proscribed these drugs

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Why Schools Fail (another year of bad results)

Another year of disappointing educators, children and parents (Star Tribune 7.28.16)

Don’t blame the teachers (it’s us).

The once a straightforward concept of public schools has morphed into a complex institution unable to respond to the double whammy of a massively changed student body and the unprecedented un-building of support for public education (especially science).

Our student body has changed;
First, immigration and the challenges of language and culture have always turned out well. American education has successfully educated millions of immigrants.

Yes, it’s a struggle, but it is what teachers do and they have always succeeded. My grandparents did not speak the language when they arrived – all of their children successfully finished a public school education.

Second and most critical, generally unknown and poorly understood even by those in the trenches of teaching, social work and justice. The rest of us (including legislators) are clueless.

Identifying and responding to the mental health issues shaping this generation of American citizens is decades late in coming and it has overwhelmed our schools, courts and other public institutions.

The explosion of homelessness, suicides, violence among veterans with PTSD have shown us the long lasting and severe damage trauma does to a person. Untreated or undertreated trauma almost always ends badly (80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives).

As a 20 year volunteer CASA guardian ad Litem removing children from traumatizing homes it’s impossible not to see how children beaten, molested, starved and neglected need way more help than they are now getting to succeed in school or in life.

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Why Teachers Quit – 2 Perspectives (Finland & Harvard)

When I interviewed teachers for my INVISIBLE CHILDREN book, an art teacher cried as she told me how she had entered teaching because she wanted to make a difference by bringing her love of art and teaching together. No Child Left Behind turned her into a warden with little time for sharing art or her passion for teaching with students that wanted to learn. In her perspective, the school scoring mandate meant that troubled students ended up in her room, because there was no worry about the performance in the “art” class. Fifty students, not thirty. Troubled students with violent outbursts, not seekers of art and beauty. She spent most of her time keeping students safe, not teaching the concepts of color and contour.

She was a dedicated, kind, and generous educator that recognized that the politics driving her chosen vocation were ruining her dream and her life. She told me why she gave up.

She was crying when she told me her story on the curb at a Mayday parade in Minneapolis. I will always remember her.

Her story is repeated in the data and the writings I recommend below.

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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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Why We Hate Lawsuits (Eric Dean’s grandmother sues county & social workers for his death)

The most painful thing about the Eric Dean lawsuit (aside from the sadness of a four-year old boy tortured to death over years by his step mother Amanda Peltier) is reliving the abuse that led to his death when this new lawsuit hits the papers.

Brandon Stahl’s Star Tribune article today is an in your face reminder of how bad things are for at risk children, how vulnerable and voiceless they are and how Eric’s torture was ignored by so many for so long.

 

Without the persistence and hard work of Brandon Stahl and the Star Tribune, Eric Dean’s death would have remained unnoticed and child protection in MN unchanged. 

Four MN counties would still screen out 90% of the child abuse calls & social workers would still be forbidden from knowing about prior histories of abuse in home when investigating new reports.  15 reports of face and body bites, broken arm and intestinal puncture could still be ignored.

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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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Without Understanding Core Issues, Better Answers Are Hard To Come By (or why legislators need more information to do their jobs well)

It was the final question and statement from the Legislative Committee after my testimony about generational child abuse and the “real costs” of under-funding Child Protection and Children’s Mental Health at the State House yesterday that caught me off guard and made it difficult for me to fall asleep last night.

This is my best rendition of that last question and statement from the Tax Committee considering funding for the recommendations of the Governors Task Force on Child Protection that hurts me and makes me fear that better answers will remain hard to find from our state lawmakers;

1) the question; Do you think that anything state funding of programs can do will alter the fact of generational child abuse and damage it causes?

2) the statement; I’ve been on this committee for many years and not seen anything work.

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Women’s Rights & Children’s Rights (and where are we today?)

100 years ago, women were property (legally) and a husband could do just about anything to his wife. Murder was still murder, but anything else was treated by law enforcement much like animal abuse was in the day (not a big deal for the courts to be concerned with).

20 years ago I became a volunteer *CASA guardian ad Litem (voice for the child) in County child protection and saw first hand what it’s like for an American citizen to have no voice in the home, no voice in the courts and no voice in the media.

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 and not to be enslaved).

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Worst State For Moms (and their children) Louisiana Again

My 2012 report about the last place in the nation to raise a child was reaffirmed today (Huffington Post) with another study ranking the state dead last for women. One in five Louisiana women live in poverty & they earn 67% of what men earn (a little more than half of a man’s wage).

One OB-GYN for every 13,136 women & nearly 20% of non-elderly women are uninsured. Waiting periods and counseling are required for women seeking an abortion. Louisiana has the highest rates of poverty, infant mortality, child death, teen births, and no health insurance in the nation.

Other states that earned an “F” overall in these categories are Utah, Oklahoma, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, South Dakota, Indiana and Georgia.

Louisiana is also the Prison Capital of The World, where for profit prisons are making a fortune for their investors. They have found that by offering almost no rehabilitation, crowded conditions and easy incarceration statutes (one in eighty six adult Louisiana residents are in the prison system), profits are extraordinary and recidivism is through the roof.

Please share this with your contacts that it might find its way to Louisiana (change only comes from awareness).

Follow KARA on Twitter http://twitter.com/KidsAtRisk

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Worthy Reader Questions

Mike,

Your anguish at the pain and suffering of children is laudable and this site great. And these hearings only show the safety net is torn and clearly failing children, isn’t time to broach the subject of parenting while asserting the “rights of the Child?”

A.R.,

Thank you for the kind words and very good question – it gets to the heart of what KARA is.

KARA is the voice of abused and neglected children removed from their homes* & this editor tries hard to tell their stories and report on the people, policies and programs that impact their lives.

Time and resources in a small nonprofit require outside volunteer effort to accomplish this goal with any regularity or depth. Thank you Century College for continuing to include Kids At Risk Action in your volunteer program.

To your point A.R., I will work at putting more attention to the subject of parenting. We know that parenting skills don’t come from the stork & our community needs to better appreciate the value of healthy children.

Unfortunately, our communities are more willing to put resources and attention to dealing with unhealthy children than building healthy children.

we are very grateful to and supportive of organizations that concentrate on improving the lives of at risk children through better parenting, more attention to improving the lives of young families and helping adoptive and foster parents.

The sadness and pain children and families experience due to generational child abuse can’t end until the voice of abused and neglected children is heard by a larger public and our message to legislators loud enough to force them to listen and do the right thing through better policies and programs.

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Wow – Thank You Amy and Friends

Last night’s KARA party and fundraiser was great fun and a super success. The food was remarkable and between the banana ice cream cinnamon wonder and the multiple courses of beefy and veggie creations, I was hard pressed to not have two of many things.

We met new volunteers and supporters and raised significant money for KARA’s INVISIBLE CHILDREN Campus program

Damon & I had the pleasure of engaging many of you in KARA’s mission and strategy. We have high hopes of keeping your interest in our efforts in the years to come as we build an army of people that want to improve the lives of at risk children.

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Wow & Thank You For Supporting CASA Minnesota

CASA Minnesota’s Brewing Hope event turned out to be a smash hit and a great time was held by all.

Thank you to everyone that came and shared in the fun and especially those of you Donated or went home with silent and live auction booty.

Have fun on the African vacation, at Stouts Island Lodge, and the University Club next year (and the many other great dining, service, and happy event items donated for the event).

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YAY Teachers (running for office)

Our mean spirited and child unfriendly politics is driving teachers into public office. This is a sample and it the most positive movement towards better treatment of children than we have seen in a long time. Blaming teachers for trouble schools is so wrong.

Looking for better schools, higher graduation rates and safer communities? Support schools and the people on the front lines.

What we do to our children, they will do to society (Pliny the Elder 2000 years ago)

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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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Yes, We Do Know

If there is one thing we should know about American children that have been removed from their birth homes, it is that they have suffered extended exposure to violence and deprivation.
This is the definition of the “Imminent Harm Doctrine” which is the legal statute that allows children to be removed from their family.
Extended exposure to violence and deprivation is also the World Health Organizations definition of torture. Children are not removed from their birth parents unless the home environment has endangered the life of the child. That is the law.
Of the 50 children I have advocated for over twelve years, all had experienced severe and chronic violence and neglect. Sexual abuse of children is not uncommon. Their stories would make you cry www.invisiblechildren.org
To express wonder at why abused children develop emotional problems as they age is misleading and unfair to these children.

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Yesterday, Don Shelby, KARA & An Expose That Grows Awareness & Concern For Abused and Neglected Children

Yesterday was a big day for Kids At Risk Action. The KARA board talked with Don Shelby for five hours discussing the complicated task of how to create a television expose telling a story that moves people to action to improve the lives of abused and neglected children.

This project will take time, and a great deal of energy and resources. After yesterday, we are confident that with a seasoned reporter and storyteller like Don on board, this project will succeed.

It became clear as we talked that Don Shelby has a thirty year background in telling this kind of story and his heart is with children.

To be most effective, KARA must build a following of people that stand with us on children’s issues.

Watch KARA’s TV short clips here and sign up for our weekly news updates here (9am emailed to you on Fridays) Share these links with your friends and networks and help us build the following we need to make change for children.

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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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You’re Six and On Your Own in the Court System (not having an advocate leaves abused children even more vulnerable)

The fear and aloneness in the eyes of the child sitting next to me in court as the judge decides where she will live after being taken away from the only home she has ever known is palpable.

Here, in a roomful of adults she has never seen before about to determine what will become of her family, where she will live and what school she will go to are too monstrous for words.

How would you as a six year old respond? Remember, coping skills for these events don’t exist is six year olds.

It’s always been terror and trauma for these kids. Torture, trauma and abuse in the home. Terror and trauma of the unknown as the institution takes over every aspect of her life.

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