Where Bad Laws Come From (& why it’s not fair to blame the worker bees)

Brandon Stahl’s article in the Star Tribune today suggests that Minnesota is probably the only state in the nation to have forbidden social workers from considering past screened out cases of child abuse in evaluating new reports. Pressured to put a consistent policy in place by a state auditor, DHS institutionalized a policy that would lead to untold suffering and death of abused children for four years (it ended today with the Governor’s signing of the reversal of that bill.

That is just the tip of the iceberg that the Governor’s Task Force is working on. Perhaps with the added attention to the Task Force and Brandon Stahl’s continued reporting we can move up a few notches among the states in what we spend on child protection in MN (we rank 47th currently).

It befuddles me that the studies completed by the Federal Reserve Bank by Art Rolnick and Rob Grunewald have not brought the larger business community into appreciating the fundamental issues underlying a productive work force. It may be that the arguments should be made in terms of cost instead of savings. I think it would scare people to know how expensive ignored at risk youth are to our community. A single boy in my caseload cost this county at least 3 million dollars by the time he aged out of child protection (not including the awful things he has done to people).

By any measure, taking care of vulnerable children is duty of all of us and to make you feel better, saves you money and is the right thing to do.

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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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SMART JUSTICE – Mental Health Police in Texas

A friend sent me this today and I think it would solve many of our nations troubles and is worth sharing (widely). San Antonio Texas and Bexar County have saved 50 Million dollars and made life safer, more just, and much kinder for their citizens. The jails aren’t full today because the officers are dealing with the mental health issues that are getting people shot and beat up by other police departments.

Instead of facing more awful stories about how police departments are causing their communities to fear them, this department has recognized that jail is ineffective in treating mentally unhealthy people involved in low level crime and they came up with a better way. Read the whole story below (with audio).

Watch & Share these 2 minute trailers from KARA’s TV documentary project (help us BUILD KARA & spread the word)

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Important Points By Brandon Stahl (Star Tribune) Today On Pope County

The following quotes from Brandon Stahl’s reporting today in the Star Tribune indicate the depth and scope of child protection troubles in MN.  That Governor Dayton used “Colossal Failure” language and created a task force to investigate the sad tortured death of 4 year old Eric Dean is to be commended.  Awful things happening to…

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1% of U.S. Family Courts Are Safe Baby Courts

This article from the ACEsTooHigh website is a comprehensive article about the difference between traditional family courts and emerging early childhood courts is striking and worth reading in its entirety. In safe baby courts, kids don’t suffer more abuse (and that is very different than the data coming from traditional family courts. The compelling build-up of evidence isn’t just in the data. It’s also stories like this: One mother in Mississippi whose baby was born with crack cocaine in his system went into rehab, was allowed only supervised visitation while the baby remained with his grandparents, complied with the service agreement and achieved unsupervised visitation within four months and custody within six months. She went back to school and eventually received a master’s in social work, married and has a second child.

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KARA Talk – March 1, Mike & Tiffini -Pilgrim House 10:15 Arden Hills

Join us at Pilgrim House Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1212 W Highway 96, Arden Hills MN 55112

Mike Tikkanen & Tiffini Flynn Forslund are board members at KARA, Kids At Risk Action working to bring attention and support for the people, policies, and programs that improve the lives of to at risk youth.

have been a volunteer county guardian ad-Litems since 1996. He is also a CASAMN board member & founder of KARA, Kids At Risk Action with a mission to speak for the rights and awareness of abused and neglected children. KARA’s current project is a television documentary/expose with TPT. By generating conversation and exposing facts that many are afraid or unable to speak about, Mike brings attention to the critical issues facing abused & neglected children. Mike and Tiffini identify the problems children, schools, and neighborhoods face daily because of poor public policy and the dysfunction created by lack of awareness within our community. The KARA website is http://www.invisiblechildren.org.

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KARA Conversation With A Minnesota Police Chief

My conversation with a Minnesota police chief today was eye opening.

He spoke of how city leaders don’t take his repeated warning about the growing body of experience his community is having with troubled children & families. These leaders debate his stated daily reality for his police officers as if it were a small thing.

Like the growing bloc of dysfunctional families with serious mental health and coping problems and how this population is stressing the police force, courts and public welfare systems and how that added stress flows into the daily lives of the city/county workers themselves leading to serious problems of failure in school and failure of child protection systems and the high rate of worker turnover in education and social work. And then there’s the costs to the County and diminished quality of life to the citizens.

We both see that there is far too much training that goes into the difficult work of teaching and social work to see turnover rates growing as fast as they are. No one likes poor graduation rates or high crime rates. Unsafe neighborhoods are no good for anyone.

His view is that the elasticity of our systems is not limitless – it will break at a point and become a major social ill impacting our entire civil society making life painful for all of us.

It is precisely the functionality of our institutions that have made life in this nation as attractive as it has been.

For a growing number of people conditions are getting worse and this includes working people forced to deal with a more problematic and behaviorally challenged population.

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Nothing Just Fine About It

At the end of a recent KARA presentation about child abuse and child protection in our community at a metro Kiwanis, a University Professor argued strongly that child protection was working “just fine” from his perspective.

This after I had just pointed out the lack of support, training, and resources for the courts and social workers and the terrible stories and results MN is currently experiencing. Governor Dayton called child protection in the death of 4 year old Eric Dean (after 15 ignored reports of child abuse) a “colossal failure”, MN ranks 47th in what we spend on child protection, and this professor lived just a few miles where a very young child was raped and murdered (18 month old Maplewood girl).

He did not seem to know that day care workers are paid less than food service workers in America and in the rest of the industrialized world day care workers are are required to have advanced degrees that include mental health training (and are paid better because of their training). He did not agree that more attention needed to be focused on at risk youth.

“Just fine” for him perhaps, not having to meet or deal with the traumatized two year old’s, and the never ending string of abused and neglected children that social workers and court personnel see day after day and year after year with too little resources and too big of a case load.

There is nothing fine about the statistical reality of state wards in child protection becoming state wards in juvenile justice and then state wards in criminal justice. There is nothing just fine about the amount of psychotropic medications being used on children and juveniles in the system, or the problems foster and adoptive parents must face everyday with the behavioral problems these kids bring with them into their homes and school.

The professors thinking goes a long way in explaining the absence of crisis nurseries, therapeutic day care, and other programs that would give kids safety and coping skills necessary for success in school and in life.

It saddens me greatly that an educated segment of our community knows so little about the sadness that exists for so many involved in child-well being and child protection that they are unable to identify and support the programs and policies that could address the problems and make life better for children, our schools, and communities.

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Maplewood Toddler Molested & Murdered (7th MN child death since Eric Dean’s)

Now that attention has been focused on the tragic lives lead by abused and neglected children by the Star Tribune & Brandon Stahl, it appears that there are significantly more homicidal/suicidal child deaths in our community than we have been used to seeing in the newspaper.

Unless there are reporters watching for these sad tales, it seems that we just did not know about them. Children deserve better. Watch our videos and spread the word;

2 Minute TPT/KARA Video Trailer Join KARA at;

KARA Facebook

KARA Linked In (group)

KARA Twitter

KARA weekly news update and help us create more awareness for the issues facing at risk children

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News From Safe Passage For Children of Minnesota & The Child Protection Task Force

Follow Governor Dayton’s Budget and Child Protection Task Force News at Safe Passage for Children of MN links below;

Performance Mode

Work Group Meetings Update

Governor Dayton’s Child Protection Budget

Report on Governor’s Task Force and Work Group Meetings (Jan 14)

While I’m optimistic that these concerned people are working on improving services and strategies for abused and neglected children of Minnesota, it is painful to read the continuing sad news being reported about overwhelmed social workers, class action lawsuits, inadequate safeguards, and growing caseloads. It frightens me to think about how much (or how little) can be changed by one task force in one year within a system that handles sixty thousand children annually on a limited budget and imperfect systems. What happens next year?

If we valued children or even just understood the economic impact of under-served abused and neglected children passing through our schools, communities, courts, and in the end, juvenile and criminal justice systems, things would be different. Basic math proves the extraordinary costs to communities of failed schools and children unable to graduate on a trajectory to dysfunctional lifestyles and another generation of troubled families with more abuse and neglect.

Early childhood programs are a great investment in our communities and our children. Both the kids and our communities deserve better. Support the CASA guardian ad-Litems in your community & give children a voice.

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Overwhelmed Child Protection Workers (redefining what is manageable)

Quoting Jodi Wentland (Olmsted County’s child and family services director) in Brandon Stahl’s Star Tribune front page article today, turnover is too high, inexperienced social workers are taking cases “before they are fully trained… with excessive case loads…, & they often leave”. To no one’s benefit I might add. It is costly to the state to trained employees that leave the field quickly, disruptive to the children and families that experience multiple and inexperienced child protection workers, and adds to the awful news we are seeing more of in our newspapers and on TV (think Eric Dean and Kendrea Johnson).

Even when Child Protection Agencies reported they could always handle the the workload, that’s not always a sign of stability. One county, for example, reported a 25 percent annual turnover rate was reasonable. This striking comment (again from today’s Brandon Stahl article) from Traci LaLiberte* about child protection providers prompted my title for this article today and is worthy of repetition, “These systems have been so stressed for so long that they’ve redefined what’s manageable”.

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Are Class Action Lawsuits The Future For Child Protection? (Just filed in Arizona)

Note, this article is not about blaming people doing the work – it’s about legislators that are unaware of the dire straits abused and neglected children are facing and their slow and inadequate reaction to the conditions existing in our most important institutions today.

Many states are failing their most vulnerable citizens in the most tortured and traumatizing ways. National Disgrace (Star Tribune) & Colossal Failure are the words being used across America describing child protection in state after state. Four and five year old children are dying by homicide and suicide.

Two days ago, a lawsuit was filed against the AZ Department of Child Safety alleging “severe shortage of mental and physical health services”, “failure to conduct timely investigations of child abuse reports”, and a widespread failure of the State to help troubled children maintain family relationships.

If lawmakers do not make and allocate funding for policies that keep children safe, this nation resorts to lawsuits that pay damages and fines for such failures. Sometimes, the court includes very expensive punitive awards to make it explicit that the state needs to function better for children. It’s an expensive way of creating policy and children have to suffer greatly before that happens.

From my perspective as a longtime volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem, it is far less costly, and way more ethical and productive for legislators to fund programs and address problems than it is to obfuscate, ignore, and watch the slow torture of abused and neglected children evolve into class action lawsuits and the next generation of abused and neglected children becoming parents of another generation of abused and neglected children. We are costing this nation its quality of life by trading at risk children and young families for failed schools, unsafe streets, a giant prison system, and monstrous pharmaceutical industry (and million of children reported to child protection each year).

Every five years a new generation of abused and neglected children enter our schools and communities.

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Dear State Representative Lohmer

Dear Representative Lohmer,

Responding to your note to me below (decrying the cost of early childhood programs being recommended by Governor Mark Dayton), I’ve been a volunteer CASA guardian ad-Litem for almost 20 years and watched what short changing MN children does to our schools, city streets, and state budget.

One of (I have 50 stories)my case load boys cost the county between 2 and 3 million dollars and that does not include the people he has stabbed, teacher he beat up, or hundreds of others he has caused great suffering to in his young life.

He’s in his early 20’s today and recently aged out of foster care (I met him in 1996 when he was 7) today, he has AIDS, is on the most expensive medicines in the nation, has always been a state ward, and I expect will always be a state ward.

To not support programs that could have helped him lead a normal life is fiscally irresponsible and morally reprehensible.

If I were to describe to you the costs some of the other fifty children I have worked with (as a volunteer) in child protection, you would make better decisions concerning early childhood programs.

We launch a new generation of abused and neglected children with or without coping skills every five years (by five a child is able to cope with his or her environment, go on to school and succeed or Not). It hurts me to meet people that don’t understand this. Quit thinking of a generation as 20 years. It is not. It is five years for the children we are talking about.

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Sad Stories; How America Values Its Children (a national disgrace)

“National Disgrace” is the headline in the Wednesday Star Tribune report on the Federal Government’s failure to enforce child protection laws, and the many children dying of abuse and neglect in plain view of child protection workers.

“Colossal Failure” were the words of MN Governor Mark Dayton when speaking about his state’s failure to provide child protection services to 4 year old Eric Dean after 15 ignored reports (by mandated reporters) of the bite marks and broken bones prior to his murder this year. The photos and the stories presented by journalist Brandon Stahl at the Star Tribune were horrific and caused the Governor to create a task force to stop the awful happenings in Child Protective Services.

Mark Dayton’s task force is recommending transparency and changing the awful laws and practices that currently make keeping children safe next to impossible.

Minnesota was a leader in child protection services twenty five years ago (as was California). Today, our state spends less on child protection than 46 other states and the results are in; Racial disparity, very troubled schools, and horrific child protection failures.

Don’t use my words to blame service providers. It’s not them it’s us.

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The State Of Child Protection in Texas (655 under-reported deaths of abused children)

With one of the nation’s largest child abuse agencies, 2.5 billion dollar budget, & 8000 employee, Texas struggles to keep up with the increase in child protection cases, not enough quality foster and adoption families, and cases that stay in the system far too long (federal lawsuit).

For a long time now, Texas has ranked last or near last among the states for prenatal care (50th), low birth weight babies, health care expenditure (48th), spending on mental health (49th) graduation rates (45th), SAT scores, child abuse deaths, uninsured children, births to teen moms, WIC benefits per person (50th), 4th highest in women living in poverty, and 6th highest in child poverty (2013 Texas Legislative Study Group/83rd Regular Session of the Texas Legislature).

Texas is also first in executions, 2nd in larceny, theft, and property crime rate, 4th in rate of incarceration, and personal bankruptcy filings, (March 2013).

Nearly half of the 655 under-reported child deaths occurred to children on CPS radar. That’s what happens with extraordinarily high caseloads, too few resources for existing cases, lack of transparency & reporting.

Each year, over 100,000 Texas children between the ages of 7 & 17 go missing, many of them while in child protective services.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that 60% of children likely to be victims of sex trafficking have fun away from foster care or group homes.

The high turnover in child protection workers and broken foster care and daycare system are just the tip of the iceberg of at risk children in the state.

Child protection workers and children did not make the mess and they can do little to fix it. Lawmakers, voters, and concerned citizens need to look to other states and nations to find solutions.

26% of Texas population (1.7 million Texas children) live below the federal poverty level & Of the 804 Child fatalities reported in 2013, 156 were related to child abuse or neglect according to Child Protective Services.

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Child Protection – Research – Transparency & Safe Passage For Children (Rich Gehrman)

Anyone interested in the real politics and machinations of child protection policies and services in MN needs to know about Rich Gehrman/Safepassage For Children studies and recommendations. They set a gold standard for information and instruction that I am most happy to see on board at Governor Dayton’s Task Force On Child Protection.

Based on in depth research of child protection cases Safe Passage reported how well/not well MN children and families are being served with current policies. Most notable among their studies observations were;

* Caregiver compliance was often predicated more on attendance than changing bad behaviors

* A third of the children continued to be abused while under court supervision

* Access to child protection records is critical to understanding and changing public policy for abused and neglected children

* 60% of child abuse reports in MN are screened out (4 counties screened out 90% of abuse calls)
* The average abused child is placed in four different homes

Rich’s latest Public Radio interview (listen here)

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Child Abuse – Society Is Paying For This (Hank Marotske today’s Star Tribune)

Truer words were never spoken.

I am encouraged by Abby Simmons Star Trib reporting today on the MN Child Abuse Task Force 11 point plan to make child protection a priority in Minnesota. That a bipartisan group of lawmakers are able to agree that keeping children out of harms way is the least we can do for them gives hope to the possibility of crisis nurseries, day care, and mental health services*.

If adopted, counties can no longer screen out 90% of child abuse reports, reported cases will be shared with police, assessments will be used only when safety of the child is not an issue, and the use of prior child abuse reports will become part of the investigation instead of off limits. Well done MN Task Force On Child Abuse.

The task force needs to stay on the job for another year to keep these critical issues in front of the public (right where it needs to be). Children removed from toxic homes can be helped to deal with the traumas of abuse and neglect and go on to do well in school and life. As CASA volunteer guardian ad-Litem dealing with many children over many years I’ve come to know the high cost of abused children falling through the cracks going on to lead dysfunctional lives and their own families of dysfunctional children.

Healing from trauma and abuse, parenting and coping skills do not come from the stork. We can save children as well as our society with sound child protection in Minnesota (and show the nation how it ought to be done**.

Keeping children out of harm’s way is the least we can do for them. Let’s show the nation that Minnesota values children.

*It was pointed out to me recently by Steve Lepinske at the Washburn Center for Children that while there are 3 children’s hospitals in the metro, there are no children’s mental health hospitals. The treatment of traumatized children is a public health/mental health issue.

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Child Protection, Kendrea Johnson & The Information War

Kendrea Johnson’s social worker was unaware that Kendrea’s mental health provider knew this six year old girl was severely mentally ill and having daily thoughts of suicide and homicide.

Tannise Nawaqavou, Kendrea’s foster mother didn’t know either. No one told anyone that this six year old girl wanted to kill herself (and others – she had twice threatened to kill her foster mother with a screwdriver).

As a long time Hennepin County CASA guardian ad-Litem, it hurts me to see policies in place that insure not the best interests of the child, but the best chance that people will never know about the terrible things going on in the lives of abused and neglected children. We do this to foster and adoptive parents all the time and it has to stop (it is dishonest). The intensive therapy needed by traumatized children is simply beyond the ability of average people (most foster/adoptive parents – note the privacy laws referred to by child protection in Brandon’s article above).

People (like the psychologist from Pennsylvania (below in read more) quoted in today’s article*) that don’t believe suicide happens to six year old’s just don’t have a clue.

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Falling Through the Cracks (NYTimes) 786 Children Die While in Child Protective Services

This article in yesterday’s NY Times, (from AP) shows how at least 786 children died awful deaths while in full view of child protection authorities. The numbers are most likely much higher (read KARA’S Sad Stories page here).

TAKE ACTION & join KARA in our awareness building campaign to save lives and support abused and neglected children in our communities.

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Minneapolis 6 Year (Kendrea Johnson) Old Hangs Herself? (police left to ponder – I don’t) Star Tribune Today

Thank you Brandon Stahl (& David Chanen) at the Star Tribune for writing an article giving voice to the elephant in the room that is the dangerous and suicidal behavior of children in child protection. No one wants to hear it and no one wants to address this, but it is a very real problem of great consequence to our communities.

As painful as this conversation is, without it, dangerous and suicidal behaviors will continue to be an issue for abused and neglected children in need of protection (in & out of the system).

As a CASA guardian ad-Litem, I see this awful suicide as the tip of the iceberg that is the under-treatment (resources/response/coordination/services) provided to the poor young souls unlucky enough to be born into a dangerous and dysfunctional family.

Children traumatized severely enough to be removed from their birth home don’t have coping skills to mend themselves or manage the behavioral problems that follow from what has been done to them.

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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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Minnesota Can Set A National Example Of How Child Protection Works (Bravo Task Force and Governor Dayton)

Roses on WallGovernor Dayton’s Task Force on Child Protection is off to a great start. Thank you Rich Gehrman and all the other Task Force members working hard to make children safe in our state.

You can read the complete recommendations of the Task Force here (22 pages). You can follow it even a little more closely at Safe Passage For Children here

I’m celebrating the recommendation for transparency,

More effective audits,

Eliminating the preference for “assessment” (not finding out if the child is being abused) over “investigation” (finding out if the child is being abused),

Creating a common framework for decision making for the reporting of child abuse,

Eliminating the awful law barring prior screened out reports (they should be permitted and encouraged and maintained for five years),

Including child safety as the PARAMOUNT consideration for decision making,

Sending all reports of maltreatment to law enforcement, and allowing screeners to seek collateral information when making decisions.

These are all in the Task Force Recommendations.

Friends of KARA, Let’s all follow this to the implementation of these recommendations Copy/steal from me any/all of this info and provide it to your friends and networks. These changes must happen if children are to be safe in MN. Let’s make Minnesota an example of how children to keep children safe and well in this nation.

Join KARA & Stand Up For Children

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