It deeply saddens me to witness the dismissive portrayal of KARA writings as hyperbolic. Having dedicated decades to child protection work and extensive research, I am constantly confronted with the grim reality that Minnesota children are suffering and dying in alarming numbers within the system.

I urge you to read the first 200 words of the recently published Star Tribune investigative report titled “IN HARM’S WAY” to fully comprehend the urgency of this issue. The report illuminates the disheartening fact that parental rights frequently outweigh a child’s right to safety. Disturbingly, my experience spanning almost 30 years reveals that Child Protective Services (CPS) often returns severely abused children to their parents, despite evidence of continued mistreatment, failed drug tests, neglected therapy, or even new criminal behavior.

It is imperative to understand that these recent investigative reports, including “SAFE PASSAGE report on children killed by parents while in CPS” – and the Star Tribune HARM’S WAY,” are not isolated incidents. CPS operates in an opaque manner, shielding itself by silencing employees who speak out to the press and obscuring outcomes data through questionable reasoning.

Former MN Supreme Court Chief Justice, Kathleen Blatz, has powerfully emphasized the lasting impact of childhood trauma on an individual’s life, noting that “90% of the youth in the Juvenile Justice System have come through CPS” and that “The difference between that poor child and a felon is about eight years.” Similarly, KARA board member, Damon Kocina, highlights that “The difference between that poor child and a preteen mom with no parenting skills, a violent boyfriend, and a drug habit, is about eight years.”

Child abuse is a critical issue that needs immediate attention. As a CASA volunteer, I urge you to sign up for Friday Morning Updates to stay informed and take action. Remember, all adults are the protectors of all children. Together, we can make a meaningful difference in their lives.


Mike Tikkanen speaks about child abuse/trauma/healing and community

at schools, colleges, workplaces, events, etc.; To learn more:

send an email to with SPEAKING in the subject line. 

Mike’s INVISIBLE CHILDREN book can be read and listened to (for free)here.

  • Sign up for KARA’s Free Friday morning E-Newsletter
  • subscribe to new chapters of AMERICA’S CHILDREN IN 100 CHARTS here.
  • Mike is A KARA founder/Executive Director and founding board member at CASAMN.

Contact your State Rep and share your views

Find Your MN State Rep Here

#childabuse #teenmoms #childrensrights #childprotection


The Star Tribune spent more than a year examining Minnesota’s child protection system after 6-year-old Eli Hart was killed by his mother last year in a case that drew international attention.


This excerpt from SAFE PASSAGES REPORT;

Julissa Thaler was convicted of first-degree murder in February and sentenced to life in prison for shooting Eli nine times and then stuffing his body in the trunk of her car. Eli’s death came 10 days after a Dakota County judge granted Thaler full custody of the boy.

Court records show that Thaler failed to attend court-ordered mental therapy, was kicked out of a required parenting class and had to find a new drug-testing facility because of her “bizarre behavior.”

Though county workers repeatedly raised concerns about Thaler’s actions, they ultimately recommended that she be reunited with her son after she consistently tested negative for illegal drugs and agreed to start seeing a therapist.

Heaven Watkins

Sheronda Orridge said her warnings also went unheeded in 2016 when a Ramsey County judge agreed to return her 9-year-old niece to her mother, Latoya Smith. The county had just gotten a report that the girl, Heaven Watkins, had been hit in the face while on a trial home visit. Heaven, who had cerebral palsy, had been removed from the home after prior incidents of physical abuse.

“I actually told them if you let her go back to her mom, she is not going to live long — and the blood is going to be on your hands,” Orridge said.

Heaven was beaten to death 19 months later by her mother’s boyfriend after the family moved to Virginia. Smith pleaded guilty to homicide and felony child abuse. She admitted to multiple incidents of abuse involving Heaven, whose body was found with 24 bone fractures in various stages of healing.

In a written statement, Ramsey County officials expressed their “sincerest condolences” for Heaven’s death, calling it a “tragedy,” but declined to answer questions about the case or the county’s child protection practices.

“Removing a child from their family doesn’t guarantee safety,” Ramsey County officials said in the statement. “It is a tool, utilized when it’s determined with thorough assessment when safety cannot be established in the child’s home setting. Data shows that children are more likely to experience significant trauma when they are removed from their homes.”

Nikki Farago, a deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said the department is looking “seriously” at how to reduce the levels of abuse that take place after reunification.

The fatalities, she said, are “very small numbers.”

“Many times, when we have a tragic death, you want to know what went wrong and you want to go to quick fixes,” Farago said. “And so many times those quick fixes don’t really address the problem.”