Star Tribune’s Investigative journalist Paul Walsh coverage of toddler Kamari Gholston’s death today shines a light on the importance of public understanding and support for Child Protective Services in our state.

Kamari’s death resembles Eric Dean’s case of 2014. Except Kamari died after being tortured; “previous instances of abuse, and multiple positive reports from CP workers,” for eight months instead of four years.

Broken elbow, cut under the lip and “probable fractures” to rib, ankle, wrist, and knee at four months (charges still pending).

Arnesha blamed her other children for inflicting this harm. No one believed her.

Was a mental health evaluation given her after inflicting this violence against her child?

Was Kamari returned to an unstable parent without meaningful testing and oversight?

Little will change until the public sees this crime articulated in words that describe the failures, violence and insanity that Kamari suffered. Paul Walsh and other reporters like him are the only hope these kids have. Access to court files and child protection information would help a public understand the depth and scope of a public health crisis that has never had transparency. A public that does not perceive a problem will not see a need for a solution.

It’s become normalized to throw rocks at the people doing the work of Child Protection. This is counter-productive and wrong. Decisions made by ordinary human beings (trained and resourced to do so) deciding the reality of a child’s life threatening home life is;

Complex, Difficult, Necessary,

A huge psychological burden – (working with traumatized children can be traumatizing to the worker).

And, constrained by rules and procedures from above.

We do what we can with resources available and orders from above. The current pressure to reunite families is a big part of Kamari’s death.

This former volunteer CASA volunteer guardian ad Litem believes that the child protection system has long been under-appreciated and overwhelmed.

The response to Eric Dean’s death (“colossal failure of child protection” quote from Governor Mark Dayton, the task force formation and partial changes) were a band aid.  The COVID lockdown has kept more kids in even more toxic homes for longer periods. The World Health Organization’s definition of torture is “extended exposure to violence and deprivation”.

We only read about the very worst cases of violence against children. Child homicides and suicides make the paper. Failed homicides and suicides and other violence against children are rarely reported. Safe Passage for Children of MN is researching child death in MN (read more here).

Abused children are invisible.

Without more institutional transparency, community awareness and commitment to child protection services, at risk children will continue to suffer caregiver violence with far too few safeguards.

I write this because today, the State GAL board, is allowing the state program administrator to end the volunteer CASA Guardian ad Litem program. This will mean the end of 40 years of community volunteers spending entire days with the children in their care).

Terminating the  program will also diminish public awareness of a nontransparent child protection system and eliminate child advocacy from thousand of passionate community volunteers – many of whom have moved on to work for abused children in other ways. Former CASA GAL Denise Graves has donated millions for housing aging out fostered youth long after her CASA volunteer work.

While not every former CASA can do what Denise does, many of us have gone on to do other things in support of State Ward children.

It will never be enough, but to end this program is to do less and just wrong.

Learn more about CASA guardian ad litem program here.

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The CASA GAL program allows volunteers to take one, two or three cases at a time. This gave me the freedom to travel to Glencoe, Bemidji, Austin and other cities to spend the day with the child in my caseload. If I had 30 cases (as required for paid GAL workers) it would have been impossible for me to spend a decent amount of time with each child.

I do not know the number of how many past GAL Volunteers there have been over 35 years, but it’s a lot. At least 6000, maybe 10,000.  The roles have slipped from over 500 active volunteers to 85 today.

Yes, it is easier to manage hundreds of cases when you can require your employees to take 30 cases (100 – 130 children).

It’s the same with social workers – big caseloads are hard on service providers and the families they work with. Quick fixes, inadequate choices become common in hard-times = more dead and traumatized children.

At risk children and families need more help, not less. It’s painful for me to watch this happen.

Circling the wagons, little or no transparency, sacrificing effectiveness for efficiency.  This is what I see.