Today’s Star Tribune article Nowhere To Go For Most Troubled Youth (thank you Chris Serres, Liz Sawyer, and Maryjo Webster) explains a lot about why so many violent carjackings, assaults, shootings, 14 year old mothers and failing schools.

For decades, this CASA volunteer guardian ad Litem has watched the “Less is more” philosophy grow in child protection in my state. It’s reaching a crescendo today. These are public health issues with great impact on the safety and livability of our communities.

Closing facilities and ending programs that were making a difference is part of who we are as a community today. Not long ago, 4 MN Counties were screening out 90% of child abuse reports. Multiple hospitals have closed their mental health services around the state. This is mostly because of a level of traumas and violence they found beyond their capacity to deal with.

For over 20 years St. Joe’s Home for children housed the most damaged children in Hennepin County. I felt terrific empathy for both the staff and children in the home. Staff never had the resources needed for the care of those children.

Many of my caseload children lived there. Most of them were required to use psychotropic medications (as young as 7 years old) at least one of them prostituted herself while she was there (she was 14), several of them were suicidal.

None of this is a reflection on the people doing the work. I know how committed, hardworking, and caring the staff were.

For people working in the field of child protection, it’s painful to work with children in a system riddled with inconsistencies and almost at odds with itself about who it is serving and lack of useful resources.

The public and legislators that fund programs and policies managing the lives of State Ward children are mostly under-informed about what’s working and what’s not working. The lack of reporting any meaningful data is striking.

This is a function of institutions not tracking or withholding the metrics of what’s working and what is not working. For 25 years I’ve wanted to know meaningful data about the broken children I’ve worked with. Hipaa Laws are repeatedly (FALSELY) used by institutions as an excuse not to provide information. We don’t seek names. We seek data. There is nothing Hipaa non-compliant about data.

While my caseload kids were 5, 10 and 15 years old, they were being arrested, having babies and trying to kill themselves. None of that ever made the paper or was made available in the reporting available to the general public. And yes, it was traumatizing to work with my kids.

What the public doesn’t know does not concern them. An uninformed public will not call their legislators to ask for policies that could slow the mayhem that is taking place in our Child Protection Systems.

None of this is a reflection of the people doing the work. Even administrators doing bad things have what they see as defensible reasons for their choices. The pressures to perform are extraordinary. Bad results don’t make their institution look good. Media attention is something they avoid. It’s hard getting information out of a stone.

Today, we are speaking of the colossal failure of detention centers and group homes being closed.

Yesterday, this website covered the colossal failure of an attempt to end the highly successful volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate program that provided ten thousand committed community volunteers advocating for abused and neglected children (for no good reason).

These are pieces to the same puzzle that make up our society.

Well said by Pliny the Elder 2000 years ago,

“What we do to our children, they will do to society”.

If you agree,

share this with your State Representative

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Below is prior KARA reporting of the Group Home closings for cause in MN.

As a long time CASA guardian ad-Litem working with privately held group homes and correctional facilities, this APM report (link below) on Kids Peace Mesabi Academy in Buhl MN, the closing of the St Cloud privately run group home and the Michigan Group homes below have much in common.


“Around the country foster group homes, juvenile detention centers, and prisons where youth are held are seeing an uptick in coronavirus outbreaks. Riots are breaking out with kids running away from facilities because they are afraid of being infected – in one instance they were tear-gassed.

These children are being placed in 20-hour-plus solitary confinement for their own “protection”, but in unventilated cells that often have not been cleaned properly. Children can have no family visitors, and their educations are on hold. Putting kids in lockdown is not keeping them safe or controlling the spread of infection. Staff, probation officers, and others are testing positive and bringing the coronavirus into confined spaces. Meanwhile, terrified children are hiding any symptoms they may have to try and avoid isolation. Those who are put in solitary suffer the emotional and psychological consequences.”  Last week 25 out of 38 girls tested positive for the virus in Michigan’s largest child welfare organization.

On multiple occasions, my guardian ad litem children have been sent to facilities that drove them to dangerous even life threatening experiences.  One boy (lets call him Al) was punished by a low level staffer and forced to stand outside on a ten degree night wearing only his T shirt and shorts.  Al had mental health issues and chose to walk thirty five miles back to Minneapolis and almost froze to death.  His second awful experience involved a religious group home that was used for suicide prevention one of the times he tried to kill himself.  At that time, the institution spent a month weeks trying to convert him to their religion instead of helping him.  The month long visit was painful and not helpful.

The State of Minnesota forcibly closed the privatized group home at St Cloud for repeated violations  including head banging that caused concussions & sex in front of staff.  2 St Paul boys group homes have been closed recently and there has long been a shortage of qualified foster homes in outstate Minnesota (as it is all around the nation).

Read the Mesabi Academy story below;

All Adults Are The Protectors of All Children

A brief history of MN’s privatized group homes;


Internal investigations by this privately held facility were not made public and were not made available to the County for investigation.

No local (St Louis County) children were sent there in over ten years.  Why was that?

Mesabi did not provide required annual reports and dragged their feet providing requested information for the investigation by the County (and the County could not enforce their own demands).

Mesabi Academy threatened the County with legal action if it removed the hosting contract and the County backed down.

This facility had twenty times more complaints than any other MN juvenile residential treatment center;

he seven largest juvenile residential treatment centers licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections

MN Correctional Facility, Red Wing 189 2 State
Hennepin Co. Home School, Minnetonka 184 0 County
Mesabi Academy, Buhl 123 64 Private non-profit
Woodland Hills Residential Treatment Center, Duluth 84 3 Private non-profit
Northwestern MN Juvenile Facility, Bemidji 65 3 County
Boys Totem Town, St. Paul 56 1 County
Anoka County Juvenile Center, Lino Lakes 50 0 County

Unlike some other similar facilities, Mesabi Academy has both secure and non-secure living quarters and it takes young delinquents sent by courts as well as those referred by county child protective services agencies. It has generated far more complaints by parents, residents, staff and others than any other comparable facility in the state. Complaints can involve a variety of concerns about care, treatment, the staff or the facility itself. Sources: Minnesota’s departments of Human Services, Corrections, 2009-2016

tnessed; sexual abuse by staff alleged by boys as young as 12, and their own fear that young, violent predators sent to Mesabi by the courts would attack them and each other.

“It’s not a safe situation for those kids,” she said.

Those allegations resulted in the investigation the county closed last week.

Investigator pulled off case

On Nov. 5, Frazier drove to Buhl to begin to investigate, according to his expense reports. Typical for any such investigation, Frazier requested a list of all of the residents at Mesabi Academy and a list of employees.

But Mesabi Academy leaders objected to Frazier’s involvement in the case, according to a St. Louis County official with knowledge of the situation who agreed to speak only without being identified.

Frazier is the president of Local 66 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Another branch of the union, AFSCME Council 65, failed in its attempts to organize Mesabi Academy employees in May. The union lost the effort by 13 votes but filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Mesabi Academy.

On Oct. 30, the company and the union agreed to set aside the election and have another vote, which has not been held yet.

Ann Busche, director of Public Health and Human Services for St. Louis County, told officials in other counties of “health and safety concerns” about Mesabi Academy. Derek Montgomery for APM Reports

Despite calling Frazier a “great” child protection investigator, Ann Busche, the director of Public Health and Human Services for St. Louis County, took him off the case. “We didn’t want any negative perceptions to hamper the investigation,” she said.

Frazier declined comment when asked whether he was removed from the case because of his union involvement.

It took Mesabi Academy three weeks to deliver the lists of residents and employees to investigators. Busche, who retired last month, called the three-week response time to supply basic information “concerning.”

KidsPeace threatens to sue county

As the investigation proceeded, Busche considered a serious change. (2)

In December, she told other counties that St. Louis County intended to pull out of its lead county contract with Mesabi Academy in part because of “health and safety concerns” at the facility. The contract outlines the age, IQ and other criteria for boys to be housed at Mesabi Academy, and the daily price for counties to send them there.

Having a lead contract with one county is a critical part of doing business for Mesabi Academy. It stands as an agreement with all participating Minnesota counties, allowing them to easily send kids there without negotiating separate agreements.


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On Dec. 10, Busche sent an email (3) to 20 Minnesota counties and one Native American tribe that placed boys in Mesabi Academy. She said St. Louis County’s contract with Mesabi Academy would be ending.

Officials with four counties — Ramsey, Wright, Itasca and Isanti — quickly responded, asking Busche whether there were problems with Mesabi. She told them that St. Louis County was ending its contract because the county used other facilities when it needed to find places for boys in trouble.

In fact, the county has renewed its contract annually for years, even though judges and social services workers in St. Louis County have sent only a few boys there in recent years.

In messages to officials in Wright and Ramsey counties, Busche added a critical detail. “We do have an open investigation that is raising health and safety concerns,” Busche wrote in an email to Ramsey County Contract Manager Sue Illg. “No determination has been made and the investigation is ongoing. The facility is cooperating with us.”

The state law governing lead county contracts requires county officials to disclose such concerns to other counties. But in follow-up messages to Itasca and Isanti counties a few days later, Busche didn’t disclose the concerns over health and safety. The only reason she cited in those emails was that St. Louis County didn’t send many kids to Mesabi and saw no benefit from holding the contract.

There was another reason for her failure to include that information: KidsPeace had threatened St. Louis County with a lawsuit claiming defamation and a violation of state data practices law, said the St. Louis County official who agreed to speak only without being named. Busche declined comment on the litigation threat.

But she still wanted out and hoped that another county, like Hennepin or Ramsey, would be willing to take over the contract. In fact, Paul Jacobson, Mesabi’s executive director, contacted Hennepin County to see if it would be willing to take over as lead county. (4) Hennepin is the only Minnesota county with its own contract with Mesabi Academy.

On Jan. 5, Busche was so certain St. Louis County was ending the contract that she sent an email to APM Reports confirming the decision.

Rukavina intervenes

An influential county commissioner had other ideas, though.

Tom Rukavina, a former state legislator, was one of the architects of the deal to bring Mesabi Academy to Minnesota 18 years ago. He wanted Busche’s decision reversed.

In a public commissioners’ meeting in Duluth the day of Busche’s email to APM Reports, Rukavina expressed concerns about her decision. He was worried about jobs, he said, after getting a phone call from an unnamed Mesabi Academy administrator.

“We don’t need the Iron Range to lose another 126 jobs,” he said, referring to the number of jobs at Mesabi Academy and the economic risk to the Iron Range. “If St. Louis County doesn’t continue as the host county … it might screw everything up.”

Commissioner Steve Raukar seemed to know about the investigation, noting that there were a “number of sensitive or personnel issues” at Mesabi and that he believed the state was involved. Rukavina asked that Busche and other commissioners from the Iron Range, including Raukar, meet privately to resolve the issue. They met that day.

The next day, Jan. 6, Busche abruptly changed her mind. She would continue the contract (5), the result of political “pushback” from Rukavina, according to the St. Louis County official, and because no other county wanted the contract.

In an interview, Busche said she felt no pressure to reverse her decision. “It’s clear that this had gotten more complicated and more political, but it was ultimately my decision to renew the host county contract,” she said.

Busche said she no longer has health and safety concerns with Mesabi Academy. And she said she didn’t have those worries when she decided to continue the lead county contract in January despite the open investigation into the 20 maltreatment allegations. She said in April the facility has been fully cooperative with St. Louis County investigators.

Tom Rukavina Derek Montgomery for APM Reports

Mesabi Academy has recently increased the number of incidents it is reporting to Busche’s office, a tally of documents received by the county shows. Since the beginning of the year, county Child Protection has already received at least seven such reports. Most were deemed too minor to warrant a formal investigation. One investigation remains active.

Rukavina did not return calls for comment on his involvement in the contract dispute. When asked about Mesabi Academy in January, he said he knew there was an issue involving the county being a fiscal agent but denied knowing much about the issue.

“Don’t know ’em from Adam,” Rukavina said.

Rukavina has been a backer of Mesabi Academy since its inception. In 1998, he and other IRRRB board members voted to authorize $1 million in loans to fund it.

Parents not told

Not only did Mesabi Academy not report the three sex abuse allegations to the county, at least two guardians for three boys allegedly involved said they were not told by the county about any investigation, a step required by law. Busche said she couldn’t comment on specific cases but said there are times when the county, not a parent, is the official guardian. That would mean it, not a parent, must be informed of such an inquiry.

“I did stuff with that staff but I’m not telling no cop.”

15-year-old Mesabi Academy resident to his mother

One boy’s mother, who shares custody of the boy, learned about the investigation when she saw on the visitor’s log at a juvenile detention center in another county that a sheriff’s deputy and a social worker were visiting her son. (The boy had been sent there on a probation violation.) APM Reports is not identifying the boy or his mother because of the sex abuse allegation.

In a letter (6) on Feb. 22, Busche told the boy’s grandmother, who shares custody, that investigators had recently received a report that her grandson “may have been sexually abused by having sexually contact [sic] with Mesabi Academy KidsPeace staff.” The letter said the county ended the investigation because the alleged offender “denied any sexual contact” with the boy and the boy denied having any sexual contact with the staffer.

Furious, the boy’s mother appealed the decision and later was told the case had been reopened. She told investigators that her son had told her he had been abused but didn’t tell investigators initially because he was afraid.

On March 18, the mother gave APM Reports a recording of a phone call with her son. On the recording, the 15-year-old boy says that he “did stuff with that staff but I’m not telling no cop.” In another phone call earlier that week, he urged her not to pursue an appeal, and told her he didn’t see what allegedly happened to him at Mesabi as a big deal. “I did a year and a month in there,” he told her. “There’s no problem with having sex with a staff.”

APM Reports requested an interview with the boy. The request was denied by the head of the juvenile facility where the boy was living because he didn’t have approval from the boy’s county probation officer.

The boy’s mother said the probation officer and the St. Louis County worker investigating the case discouraged her from talking to the media because it could compromise the investigation.

Another boy who allegedly told Caroline Mattson about sex abuse denied to APM Reports any inappropriate sexual contact with the staffer at Mesabi. APM Reports has been unable to interview the third boy, who now lives in another state.

Mattson wouldn’t divulge the names of the boys, but APM Reports traced them through court documents, social media and interviews with former residents.

The chief licensor of Mesabi Academy, the Minnesota Department of Corrections, issued a statement late Friday saying it had been informed by St. Louis County of the investigation being closed.

“We will review their report and recommendations and take any licensing action as appropriate,” the department said.

In January, Deputy Commissioner Ron Solheid of the Minnesota Department of Corrections told APM Reports that juvenile facilities should report allegations of abuse to authorities.

“We would have grave concerns with [not reporting] because that does need to get to child protection,” Solheid said. “That’s not for them to determine.”

Busche said she’d like to see the process for investigating child maltreatment changed. She said it would be better for the state Department of Corrections, not counties, to take the lead on investigations.

Buhl, Minn., home to Mesabi Academy, is set amid the ore pits of the Iron Range. Jennifer Simonson for APM Reports

More complaints than other facilities

A review of data showed the Minnesota Department of Corrections received 64 complaints about Mesabi Academy between Jan. 1, 2009, and March 14, 2016. The complaints include allegations of staffers assaulting clients, children having sex and boys exposing themselves to other children and staff. The information does not make clear how every individual complaint was resolved. The number of complaints at Mesabi Academy is substantially more than at any other juvenile facility licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, even those with greater capacity.

Two employees and a volunteer at Mesabi Academy have been charged in the past with criminal sexual conduct with a minor.

“We are confident that we have followed all applicable laws, and have acted appropriately.”

KidsPeace statement

The most recent case came in 2012. An employee named Mary Loumanen pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct after being accused of performing oral sex on a 16-year-old.

Mattson has been on medical leave from KidsPeace since October. She says she injured her hand after being attacked by a boy in the facility.

KidsPeace notified her last month that she would no longer be considered an employee after April 21 because her benefits had run out. She said a worker’s compensation judge ruled April 22 that KidsPeace is required to pay benefits to her as a result of lost work and her injuries.

Despite the tumult, Mattson said she’s disappointed she can’t return to work at Mesabi Academy. She said she’ll miss the boys she was hired to help.

The mother whose son told her he’d had sex with the staff member was disappointed with the county’s decision to close the investigation.

“I think it’s bogus,” the mother said. “Now this lady is going to get away with everything. Now she gets to work with kids again if she wants, because it’ll be taken off her record … Who’s the next kid she hurts?”

Deena Winter, Will Craft and Emily Haavik contributed to this report.

APM Reports began its work in November 2015. It is a new national investigative journalism and documentary group that will report on a broad range of important topics. Its website,, will launch soon. Follow on Twitter and Facebook.

KARA has been reporting and speaking on critical issues impacting abused and neglected children for many years.

this article submitted by long time CASA guardian ad Litem Mike Tikkanen

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