If It Wasn’t For The Lawyers (and no, I’m not)

The State of Arizona just lost seven million dollars in legal fees fighting a lawsuit demanding better care for foster children. The good news is the State lost.

It’s a tiny victory though.  Arizona, like Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and a few other states, have long sat at the bottom of child well-being statistics in the U.S. 

Abused children don’t have any power in America today. At a Federal level, they don’t have many rights either as America is the only nation in the world to not have ratified the United Nation’s Rights of the Child Treaty of the 1980’s.

They have no voice in their homes, the media, courts that rule their lives or the State House.

It hurts me to think that some states would rather spend seven million dollars fighting against making life more bearable for their most troubled and vulnerable young citizens than using those wasted dollars to provide resources and healing for them.

It’s worse yet to think that in some states, lawyers or the threat of lawsuits, accomplish more for the well-being of at risk children than the people in charge of making public policy to safeguard our children.

A Marshall Plan For Children Post COVID

Post-COVID, children having lived with increased and more severe abuse will need help healing and learning the skills they will need to succeed with their peers in school.  Young families need help and our teachers need more resources, help and training to be successful teaching larger numbers of children damaged by trauma and abuse.

Our small efforts can save these children.

Communities need a Marshall Plan for investing in children and young families &

if we support the people doing the work of

social work, education, public health and public safety we can make this happen.

It will just take a few minutes for you to copy this note and send it to your

State Representative or other government official. 

Become a voice for children.

Leaving the Field (teachers disappearing & we don’t know why?)

Today’s Star Tribune article by Erin Golden should put the shivers into all of us for several reasons.

Only half of our State’s licensed teachers are teaching,
Some rural school districts are receiving as few as six applications for open teaching positions where they used to find 100,
More than a third of districts were unable to fill teaching positions in the 2019-2020 school year,
About a third of teachers quit teaching within the first five years on the job (a long term trend),
This data is pre-COVID (projections for the 2021 year will likely be worse as the politics & realities of the pandemic become known)
It appears there is little available data as to why so many teachers are not in the classroom or sending in applications to fill vacant teaching positions.  We  don’t know why and more troubling, it could be that there may be a question about the State Legislature’s willingness to spend 25-50 thousand dollars to find out why…

We Are A Nation of Child Abusers

Nicholas Christof’s article in the NYTimes today points a finger at “pro-family” people “preserving” child poverty in America.

Lest you believe this a stretch, America stands out as the country with the highest child poverty rate and one of the lowest levels of social expenditure.  This has been true for many years.

This means food insecurity for five year olds, and the statistical probability that homeless ten year olds are three times more likely to be sexually abused than other children.

There is a heartlessness behind the politics of separating immigrant babies from their mother (over 5000) and not returning those children to their birth parents (over 1000 still are separated today).

We the people now have public policies that have led to the sad reality that;

37% of children are reported to child protection agencies in this nation by their 18th birthday.
almost one third of American children will have a criminal record by their 23rd birthay
80% of youth aging out of foster care lead dysfunctional lives

Aging Out of Foster Care In the Time of COVID

COVID is coming down hard on foster children.
Pre-COVID, 80% of aged out foster children went on to lead dysfunctional lives.  Foster care shortcomings are a social problem that is systematically forgotten, specifically for the 23,000 youth that age out of foster care… the rate of homelessness for these youth, with one third of aged out youth spending their first night on the streets. Furthermore, 14 to 26 percent of homeless adults in Minneapolis were former foster care participants according to research conducted by the Hennepin County Community Services Department.

Our Creeping Mental Health Crisis (& statistics)

As a new CASA guardian ad Litem volunteer I was stunned by the Prozac, Ritalin and other psychotropic medications prescribed to my seven, eight and nine year old State Ward children. About 1/3 of all state ward children (nationally) are forced onto psychotropic medications. Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death among 10 to 24 year olds.

Over 1 million children under 6 are prescribed psychiatric drugs in America today. In 2014, 20,000 one and two year old’s were on Prozac like drugs & *Johnson & Johnson was fined billions of dollars for illegally selling those drugs to pediatricians for use on very young children…

Impossible Questions & Painful Statistics

Are children property of their parents even if those parents

re violent, addicted, severely mentally ill or dangerously criminal?

Harder question.

Do teen and preteen mothers own their fetuses & babies

even if they abuse their children,

are addicted and out of control with little understanding of how

or ability to raise a child safely?…

Is this child’s child doomed prior to birth?

Children have no voice at the legislature, the media or in the home they are born into.  They have no choice in who raises them or what is done to them.

2021 – A More Responsive New Year For At Risk Children

If there is a silver lining in this time of worldwide pain and anxiety, it will be a recognition that rebuilding families is necessary for a healthy community.

Amid the chaos of our pandemic, the trauma and misery of children locked in toxic homes is hard to see. The media, politics and confusion on a worldwide basis are focused on vaccines, reporting and management of this frightening virus.

Struggling families facing poverty, job loss, combative politics, distrust of institutions and the steady increase of COVIDs scary reality need help to survive.

Many moms and dads do not have coping skills for managing the pressure and fear of this moment. Stressed out families drink and drug more, experience more tension, conflict and domestic violence – inflicting severe collateral damage on their children.

If we can grasp the simple reality that “What we do to our children, they will do to our society” (Greek Philosopher Pliny 2000 years ago) America can rebuild communities and a nation that once led the world in quality of life.

Avoiding the Mental Health Conversation (nothing to be proud of)

Thank you Chris Serres for reporting on the troubling development at St Joseph’s Hospital in Brainerd.

This is one of our community’s (nation’s) most serious health problems.

St Joe’s failure to admit mental health crisis patients reflects the growing nightmare of how medical institutions are dealing with mental health at a management level.

Refusing help to our most troubled citizens (people in crisis) means more sad & awful things happen to the rest of us.

People in crisis…

COVID Burnout; Health Care, Teachers, Law enforcement, Social workers & what we could do

Our communities are only as safe and healthy as the institutions that create the environment we live in.

A brief search of front line workers in education, health care, law enforcement or social work shows a growing exodus by retirement, medical leave or just walking away as COVID is making the work they do an even more extreme sacrifice than it was pre pandemic.

For those of us that live with, know or love a person engaged in keeping our children educated or the rest of us safe and healthy,we know the stresses facing these people and the fear and danger of bringing a secondary trauma or risk of COVID home at the end of the shift.

Good Bye David Strand – Founding KARA Board Member and Best Friend

KARA’s Founding Board member and best friend David Strand has passed away after a long illness.

He brought a wealth of experience, passion and commitment to the cause of America’s abused and neglected children.

David came to know a great deal about how children are treated in other advanced nations because he helped to craft public policies on children’s issues while living and working in Northern Europe.

Lawsuits and the Death of Two Year Old Arianna Hunziker

Arianna was wrapped in sheets, left alone in a closed room and slowly starved to death. Foster parents Sherrie and Bryce Dirk will go to prison for murdering Arianna. This solves nothing.

There is something terribly disturbing about a State sanctioned foster family starving a 3 year old State Ward child to death that needs to see the light of day.

Arianna must not have had a County social worker (today’s Star Tribune article …

Schools Closed – What We Need to Know

Poor districts are suffering more domestic violence & substance abuse from from front line worker stress, poverty and job loss making online learning that much harder for children.

Many poor families are crowded into small spaces, lacking necessary internet access and hardware for adequate online learning.

This NY Times article barely acknowledges the social and economic costs of abused and neglected children locked into toxic homes during COVID.  Abused children have no teacher or other mandated reporter to recognize and respond to their traumas.  There is no comparison to having a trusted teacher to privately speak to in school and a video chat with the abuser in the room or nearby.

Winning the War Against At Risk Children (& saving our city)

and 63 recent car-jackings (over the last 39 days) many include vicious assaults & mostly committed by teens – kids as young as 12, puts the lie to that belief.

For decades, the vast majority of serious and violent crime has been committed by youth and young adults.  In these 63 recent car-jackings, women are beaten, one man was shot dead and another dragged as he tried to stop them from stealing his car with his wife and child inside.

During this time of pandemic and civil unrest, it’s apparent that our city is much more dangerous than it was a year ago.

What is less apparent, are the key drivers that have needed our attention for a very long time that (if addressed) could dramatically reduce the anxiety, violence and unrest in our communities.

Before, when schools, health care and public safety seemed to work, we have had little concern with how or why things work and the luxury of not paying attention to the people, programs and policies involved.

Child Care – Brutal Truths & Best Practices

Michele Norris Star Tribune article on MN child care is just the tip of this iceberg. Did you know that the U.S. used to have the best and most affordable daycare in the world?

Today, the COVID pandemic has forced many daycare centers to close and others to raise prices significantly due to social distancing and sanitation requirements.

in many states, single Parents pay over 50% of their income for infant center care and married parents with 2 children pay over 100% of their household income for center based care (or they would if they could make it work).  Minnesotans pay over 15 thousand dollars for infant care (when public college tuition is 11 thousand dollars.  20 years ago, there were 34 names on the waiting list for MN’s subsidized daycare.  That ended when the new governor took those state funds away and the list grew to over 7000 families.  Some states have never provided meaningful help for families struggling to afford daycare.

For a nation claiming to value children – one could argue it’s for the dollars they bring in and not their future role as citizens.  Drunk uncle/boyfriend daycare is a growing sadness the media…

For a nation claiming to value children – one could argue it’s for the dollars they bring in and not their future role as citizens. Drunk uncle/boyfriend daycare is an awful thing the media…

Foster Care, Adoption & the Catholic Church

It hurts me to see the Catholic Church fighting tooth and nail to forbid gay couples from adopting State Ward children (Washington Post 8.31.18). Life is hard enough for abused children in state systems short of foster care and adoptive homes without enforcing mean spirited church dogma on couples well suited for the task of raising traumatized children with many deep and painful troubles. In fact, maybe better suited than most. Think about it. Growing up gay is a trauma for most to start with. Especially for those old enough to be married and able to adopt who came into this community when it was absolutely uncomfortable to come out and declare a gay lifestyle.

Children, Politics & Voting On Tuesday

Americans have always talked big about supporting equality, keeping children safe, supporting schools & better conditions for young families.

Today, our pro-child, pro-family discourse has become so vicious that many Americans rationalize our government taking immigrant babies and children from their mothers and then losing them so that these mothers may never see their children again.  Children have become political footballs in immigration, education, health care and law enforcement and this should disturb us.

A great deal of money and political will has gone into denigrating immigrants, public schools, teachers and the front-line workers trying to keep children healthy and safe.

Tuesday’s election is about this.

Which candidates support more access and more resources for education, health and mental health and an end to racial injustice?

“What we do to our children, they will do to society” (Greek philosopher Pliny the Elder 79 AD)

Please vote – the next generation needs you to speak for them.

Restorative Justice – Veterans & Children (saves money and lives)

Woo Hoo – MN passed a restorative justice act for veterans – diverting at-risk veterans toward probation and social service programs instead of jail time when they commit certain crimes.

Why wouldn’t we?

The World Health Organization defines torture as extended exposure to violence and deprivation. Living in a war zone, bombs going off nearby or a buddy shot dead in front of you changes the brain.

Most of us want soldiers that have experienced traumas in the service of this nation to be treated for their mental health issues and have a path to rebuild their lives as productive citizens.

The Death of Arianna Hunziker & Lawsuits

Arianna Hunziker was “starved, dehydrated, bound, immobilized and abandoned in a home littered in trash and smelling of of urine”.  Foster parents Sherrie and Bryce Dirk went to prison for murdering Arianna.  There is something terribly disturbing about a State sanctioned foster family killing a two year old State Ward child that needs to see the light of day.

The lawsuit in today’s paper points out that another MN community is having a hard time with either the resources, training or protocol for keeping at risk children safe.  Being a foster child should not be one more horrific encounter with child abuse.  It’s plenty hard when your birth parents make your suffering so bad that a judge removes you from their home to place you with a family you have never seen before.

Child Suicide Reporting (3 weeks ending 10.17.20)

These articles reflect current trends in child suicide & self-harm in America today. Only a fraction of child/youth suicides are successful. The vast majority of self-inflicted harm remains invisible. Mental health services are badly needed by young people today as the COVID pandemic is locking children into toxic homes with little or no access to the adults that could help them.

Grace’s Story (Thank you ChildrensRights.org)

Grace, a Black 15-year old who was sent to a juvenile detention center for failure to submit schoolwork.

In an email to Grace’s caseworker, her teacher stated that Grace was “not out of alignment with most of my other students.”

Tens of thousands of children have struggled to adjust to the online learning environment the coronavirus created. ProPublica cites 15,000 high schoolers in Los Angeles alone failing to log in or complete schoolwork. Yet, a judge presiding for Oakland County Family Court Division, ruled in May that not completing schoolwork violated Grace’s probation.

It’s impossible to determine the frequency of cases like Grace’s, but one thing is clear. Children’s health and safety must be prioritized. We will continue urging states to stop admissions and to release kids from juvenile facilities. No child should be in juvenile detention for missing homework.

Policing, COVID & Abused Children (share with your law enforcement contacts & save a child)

Conflicts between officer training and the children they are policing.

Policing youth with mental health problems is a growing problem.  This article sheds light on solutions to this intractable core community problem.

From a law enforcement perspective, police officers are at significant risk for injury and even

1 In 3 Children Investigated For Child Abuse by 18 (Washington University Study)

As a long time volunteer County CASA guardian ad Litem it has been hard to comprehend the explosive growth of child abuse in my lifetime. This study (lead author Hyunil Kim PhD Student at the Brown School at Washington University St Louis) published in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health is troubling on several levels.

First, to reach numbers this high by only including reports of child abuse that met County standards for a case to be investigated, indicates that this already high number (37% overall & 53% for Black Children) is possibly even higher

Children & The Supreme Court (from the Children’s Defense Fund)

The impact of the Supreme Court’s decisions in the coming year are huge.  If the Court overturns the ACA, Millions of children will be uninsured or lose affordable coverage that does not meet their pediatric-specific needs.

Children aging out of the foster cares system will lose affordable health coverage, mental health and substance abuse coverage and access to preventative services because of pre-existing conditions and there will lifetime limits on care for the seriously ill.

Foster care children will see the pool of highly qualified foster and adoptive parents shrink if

Abused Children, COVID & Law enforcement

This article addresses the depth and scope of a problem that has been and still is growing at exponential rates, all over America.
The current approach to policing at risk youth is creating exactly what we want to stop. Even partial success in ending the current model will give results to save us from building more jails and prisons and the steady growth in crime and recidivism rates.

America leads the industrialized world in gun deaths, unsafe streets, prison populations, cost of crime and recidivism rates.

The choice we are facing is imminent.  There is a tipping point that we cannot see, and it is too serious to ignore.

Criminalizing Elementary School Children (policing our schools & punishment)

Federal Funding, Zero Tolerance and Inadequate Alternatives mean that more states are policing schools with armed officers. Before the 1970’s police were almost absent from elementary and junior high schools.

Today, armed officers are dealing with an escalation of violence and criminal prosecutions for children as young as 6, 7 and 8. Prosecuting kids in place of using resources to help them adapt destroys the fabric of a child’s life and achieves the exact opposite of what children need and society expects from an elementary or junior high school experience.

There are a significant number of us who believe it more important to punish bad behavior in children than it is to help them develop the skills they need to live among us. When these folks hold sway in education, the institution suffers, the child suffers, and the community gains one more troubled adult a few years later. For too long, America has led the world in crime, incarceration, violence and troubled schools. While not the only reason, treating at risk children with behavioral problems as offenders instead of troubled youth has played a big role.

The articles below are obvious examples of policing and education gone wrong. No child should have to live with this kind of institutional abuse. ALL ADULTS ARE THE PROTECTORS OF ALL CHILDREN

When 14-year-old Ryan Turk cut ahead of the lunch line to grab a milk, he didn’t expect to get in trouble. He certainly didn’t plan to end up in handcuffs. But Turk, a black student at Graham Park Middle School, was arrested for disorderly conduct and petty larceny for procuring the 65-cent carton. The state of Virginia is actually prosecuting the case, which went to trial in November.

Changing the rules of the game requires federal, state, and local reforms. With little evidence that police in schools make students safer and plenty that they facilitate harm to students’ liberty and well-being, the Department of Justice should end the cops program’s SRO grants to districts. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for billions that promote unjust school conditions and put kids at greater risk of future involvement with the criminal justice system. And students should feel like they can talk to school officials when they have problems without forfeiting their constitutional rights and winding up in the back of police cars.

What Child Abuse Looked Like in America Last Week (a snapshot)

Those of us that know about the traumas abused children suffer need to say more if we are ever to reverse the trend of generational child abuse in America. These articles were compiled over the last week. The COVID pandemic has reduced reporting and increased domestic violence & child abuse. Read these short articles and help KARA spread the word about the problems facing at risk children.

Police vs Social Worker and what happened to an autistic child when the wrong one showed up

Police encounters with mentally ill people can have deadly consequences: according to the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, people suffering from untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in interactions with law enforcement. Earlier this month in Utah, a 13-year-old boy with autism was shot several times by police after his mother dialed 911 to request help as her son was experiencing a mental breakdown.

Sign KARA’s Petition Demanding Congress Ratify the Children’s Rights Treaty of 1989

America is the only nation on earth that is not a party to the international rights of the child treaty of 1989.

This reqest for action submitted by long time CASA guardian ad Litem Mike Tikkanen

Sign KARA’s Petition for American Lawmakers to Ratify the UN Rights of the Child Treaty

Signs That You Are a Mental Health Worker

Andy Steiner’s social workers as backbone of the mental health workforce Minnpost article belies a much deeper truth about the depth and scope of mental health in our communities at this time.

Generational child abuse has been growing exponentially for years creating millions of traumatized children treated with Prozac like drugs with minimal or no effective mental health therapies to heal their traumas.

In 2014, America put 20,000 one and two-year old’s on Prozac like drugs and big pharma paid billions of dollars for illegally selling those drugs to pediatricians for use on very young children.

A Beginners Guide to Child Abuse

Historically, my community only allows the most extreme cases of extensive, repeated abuse and trauma into the system.  Bruised, raped and bleeding was how one of my administrators termed it.

My family, friends and business associates hated me talking about child abuse.  They would rather not know about this uncomfortable subject. To this day it’s true.

I began speaking to Rotaries and other business, religious and political groups about statistics and my experiences as a volunteer CASA guardian ad litem.

For the first few years, almost no one understood my talk.

Taking Care of Foster Care (thank you We Have Kids)

No states have enough qualified foster homes to care for the children that need a loving family.

This website gives the most insightful description of foster care in America that I have come upon.

There’s so much to know about foster care and adoption and we really should be much more aware, kind and generous to the dedicated families that step up to help heal our nation’s abused and neglected children.

Foster Care Day Rates vs Dog Care Day Rates (it just doesn’t seem right)

For decades it has been true that people engaged in the keeping of pets are perceived to be more valuable than foster families caring for State Ward children.  Doggy day care is (and has been for a very long time) as or more expensive (on average $40/day) than child care (on average $30/day) should make us think a little harder about the hope we have for the future of at risk children.

Peter Hutchinson’s School Fix Is Easy and Overdue (share this)

Former Minneapolis School Superintendent Peter Hutchinson’s classroom fix for remote learning COVID problems is a terrific and necessary solution that can be implemented economically and quickly.  It’s a simple and will be popular in every community.

We should not wait – this is truly an expanding crisis for school children in many communities.

Here’s why; Pre-COVID, Minnesota schools have for years maintained an over the top student achievement gap with some of the lowest reading, math and history scores in the nation.

Adoption, Kinship and Grandparents (a tribute)

The saddest letters KARA receives come from grandparents that have watched their grandchildren horridly abused and then kept out of the loop while a cold and efficient system moves the child into a home and cutting off all further contact for the grandparents.

Almost 8 million children in America live with grandparents and other relatives. Most of them receive little or not help from governmental agencies.

Not all counties and states appreciate that it is easier for a child to restart a painfully disrupted life with someone they are connected to and have memories of than waking up in a home they have never seen before with people they don’t know.

Grandparents often don’t know about the court proceedings that are about to forever alter their relationship with grandchildren as they may live in another city or have become estranged from their badly behaving children.

Even if grandparents know of court proceedings, it can be very hard for them to have standing in the court or navigate the system once they are in it.

The saddest letters KARA receives come from grandparents that have watched their grandchildren horridly abused and then kept out of the loop while a cold and efficient system moves the child into a home and cutting off all further contact for the grandparents.

Everyone needs a lawyer and lawyers are expensive. I know grandparents that have spent tens of thousands of dollars trying desperately to provide a safe and familiar home for their grandchild.

It doesn’t seem right that money should be a biggest part of an adoption equation for grandma and grandpa (or other relatives) to make their argument for custody.

Facebook Replacing Mandated Reporters for Child Abuse?

40-day old Aiden Braden’s mother Kristina reported Aiden’s death on Facebook 38 days after social workers had responded to a child abuse hotline in Tollhouse California.  Only after Aiden died did the County workers visit the home and remove Aiden’s twin brother.

Kristina Braden had already lost custody of her 3 oldest children because of her drug addiction and a long history of child neglect.

Blaming social workers for not physically intervening when they were in lockdown solves nothing.

Minnesota Child Protection Stories, Statistics & COVID – June 2020

The nightmare of George Floyd’s murder and the burning, street violence and social upheaval continuing as this already too hot summer gets underway is raining down extra hard on children already suffering the traumas of toxic circumstances.

Closed schools locked abused children with their abusive caregivers.

This additional social violence creates more fear, pain and stress that leads to more drug & alcohol use & more domestic violence, more trauma and less escape from it.

A Powerful Resource for Minnesota’s Vulnerable Children (Safe Passage for Children of MN)

For many years Rich Gehrman and Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota have organized and delivered support for Minnesota’s abused and neglected children.  All Minnesotan’s should be aware of this organization’s efforts to improve services, transparency & policy for the states at risk children.

Below are their most recent blog posts.  Join them.

America vs. the Rest of the World (how we treat children)

KARA Signature Video (4 minute) Public Service Announcement( 30 Second)   25 years ago, KARA board member David Strand went from CASA guardian ad litem volunteer to writing his PHD student thesis “NATION OUT OF STEP” comparing America to the rest of the Industrialized World in how we treat children.  At the time, we ranked…

Domestic Violence Statistics, Covid & Child Abuse Trends June 2020

It is not maltreatment, the word maltreatment does not describe traumatic violence to a child – to a child, the trauma of watching your mother being beaten or raped is very much the same as being beaten or raped – being left in a crib alone for days at a time with no touching, no food or love is also a trauma that lasts forever.
Kids At Risk Action writes and reports on child abuse issues
providing a passionate voice for at risk children
All Adults Are the Protectors of All Children

Ethan’s Story

Ethan was 17 years old when I met him. Again, what I know of his story is limited, but the ugliest truths of it seemed to jump off the page and into my brain as I read his file to prepare for our interview. At his first foster care placement, he was sexually and physically abused by his foster father who had an alcohol problem. His foster mother was aware of the abuse going on, but because she was a victim of the domestic violence herself, was unable to stand up for the children in her home. Whether Ethan was removed from this placement (I refuse to refer to it as a “home” given the state of things) before or after this information came to light, is unbeknownst to me.

It Can’t Happen Here (Sally’s Story)

This had to have been one of the most detailed Childline referrals the county had ever seen, not to mention Sally had a wonderful, dedicated psychiatrist. As the time went by, the treatment team eagerly awaited the results of her abuse referral, as she had won over the hearts of all the hospital staff and we all wanted to see her safe and free from harm.

The referral came back as unfounded.

Due to her intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities, she was deemed in-credible.

Child Abuse, Covid & What We Know (stress and domestic violence)

Kids At Risk Action writes and reports on child abuse issues & provides a passionate voice for at risk children All Adults Are the Protectors of All Children Support KARA’s Public Service Announcements KARA Signature Video (4 minute) Public Service Announcement( 30 Second) Struggling families in America have never had it easy.  The stresses of…