Jeremy Olson’s hard hitting piece in today’s Star Tribune about this communities not caring enough for children to provide them with essential services to help them lead a normal life starts a badly needed conversation.

The diminishment of the child protection program Jeremy writes about came into play a few years ago when the County budget got tight & workers were given no other option but to not answer the phone & offer services instead of removing children from toxic environments (far fewer calls are investigated than were a few years ago – see Indiana – Wisconsin – or almost any other Southern State).

Toxic environment means something different to a child protection worker than it does to someone unfamiliar with child abuse.  My first visit to a 4 year old as a volunteer guardian ad-Litem was the suicide ward at Fairview hospital.

I’ve written about the 7 year old that hung himself and left a note.  I’ve worked with about 25 sexually abused children (most of them under 10, some 2,3, & 4) & seen bruises on children covering their whole body.

It sickens me to hear people speak about what a wonderful, spiritual society we are when in fact we much rather build prison cells & drones instead of schools, young families, and safe streets.

It angers me to hear the media & politicians blame teachers for failed schools when the drop-out rate is no more their fault than the baby in the dumpster is a social workers fault and citizens feel they’ve done a good days work just blaming and hating instead of making any kind of a constructive comment or useful act.

Our institutions have been demeaned, degraded, and spit upon for some years now & the people doing the very hard work of holding this society together are doing what they can with the resource we give them.  They are the people on the ground, in the homes, day care, and schools working with what is increasingly becoming an unhealthy (mentally & physically) population that needs more and more resources if we want to maintain a healthy & productive society.

Today, in Indiana, funds promised to families that adopted special needs children were diverted to pay bonuses to the meanest directors in the system & funding paid for by birthing families to identify birth disorders was also redirected into the general fund.

In MN today, about a third of the calls that were responded to five years ago are being investigated for child abuse.  There is significant rhetoric surrounding the “new” paradigm, & the lower rates of reported child abuse (but they’re not answering the calls – of course there are fewer reports).

There is plenty of pain being felt by abused & neglected children that is being ignored because this society doesn’t care to speak of it.  When we don’t speak of it, it does not get the attention it needs to be remedied.

That’s why are prisons are full, our schools don’t work, & more and more of our cities are unsafe.  Read the paper & call your legislator & support early childhood initiatives.

Thank you Jeremy Olson for starting this conversation.  Please keep it up.

Download the Amazon Kindle Version of our Invisible Children Ebook for 2.99 (support KARA


Vulnerable kids left at risk, Hennepin panel says

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 27, 2012 – 8:56 PM

Citizen reviewers find faults in effort to curtail abuse, neglect.

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Vulnerable children in Hennepin County are “at risk” because the county is failing to provide training and social services to certain parents who have been accused of child abuse or neglect, a county watchdog group has concluded.

Of parents referred to the county’s voluntary “family assessment” program, only 25 percent were offered the training and support the program promises. Of those parents, only two-thirds agreed to participate in support services, according to a report by the Citizens’ Review Panel distributed to county commissioners late last week.

Hennepin County has received credit nationally for its aggressive use of family assessments as an alternative to help parents whose abuse or neglect accusations weren’t severe or credible enough to warrant formal investigation.

While the approach appears to work, its success in Hennepin County rings hollow if most affected parents receive no actual help, said Denise Graves, a guardian-ad-litem who serves on the volunteer review panel.

“It does give a different representation — like the county is really helping people, when it really isn’t helping them,” Graves said.

The risk, she said, is that untrained parents will be at risk for hurting their children again.

A county child welfare executive agreed that many parents steered into family assessment aren’t offered the services. He estimated that half aren’t offered services, a rate that is lower than what the review panel found.

“That’s because there isn’t enough money to offer them all services,” said Don Sabre, the county’s acting director of child welfare protection and assessment services.

A new tool

When a suspected case of child abuse is reported, the county’s intake office must first decide whether to “screen out” the report or to screen it for further review. A supervisor’s review of the allegation then verifies whether it is credible and severe enough to warrant a formal investigation and the potential placement of a child in foster care.

Before 2000, cases that didn’t meet this investigatory standard were closed without action. Since then, Minnesota counties have had the additional option of referring parents to family assessments.

In 2011, Hennepin County received 13,295 abuse allegations, screened 4,379 in for further review, and referred 2,892 into the family assessment program. Only 1,426 received full investigations.

Caseworkers can recommend the family assessment program only when children are deemed safe and the risk of further harm is low to moderate, said Greg Gardner, supervisor for the county’s child protection investigative unit.

Because the families can refuse the voluntary training services, caseworkers have to consider it acceptable that nothing more might happen once they make that recommendation.

“If we’re uncomfortable with walking away from the situation,” Gardner said, “then we should be opening the case up for a traditional [investigative] track.”

Nevertheless, Graves said, the guardian-ad-litem’s office has represented abused children whose families had been through family assessment more than once.

Voluntary services

The family assessment technique has been found through research to prevent repeat abuse and child-welfare allegations, said Erin Sullivan Sutton, an assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which oversees county child-welfare activities.

“We do see lower rates of maltreatment as well as fewer families going back to the system” following such training, she said.

It should be no surprise that many families decline the services when offered, Gardner added.

“They may feel the report was bogus or that it was an isolated situation and they don’t need any help.”

One way to increase participation in training would be to pressure the parents — hinting at the possibility of a formal investigation if they don’t sign up, Gardner said. However, he said that might be considered unethical, because the program was designed under state law to be voluntary.

The citizen review panel made several recommendations, including classifying cases as “screened out” when families are placed in family assessment but aren’t offered support services. The panel also advised the county to track when families cycle through the family assessment program more than once, and to consider switching their cases to formal investigations.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744