These highlights on Family Assessment and Child Death from recent Star Tribune Child Abuse reporting (1, 2, 3) are the tip of the iceberg. Follow this series and read to the end to get KARA’s historical perspective of how Child Protective Services (CPS) has evolved over the years and its current iteration. Help KARA grow awareness of these repeating crisis and pernicious problems by sharing this article on your social media. We can fix this.
This Star Tribune review of more than 1,000 child protection cases filed in the past five years shows dozens of families like Jayma’s repeatedly cycle through the program, increasing the risk that abuse will continue (many of them have turned deadly).
From the article:
JAYMA. The first blow from her stepfather — a slap across the face — landed when Jayma Lawson was 3 or 4. Over the next nine years, she suffered dozens of attacks, ranging from bruising spankings to sexual abuse. She told her mother, who didn’t believe her. She told her grandparents, her therapist and a school counselor. At least some of those reports were shared with authorities. But many of those claims went unchecked for years.
For Jayma’s family, the reports started in 2004, when Jayma’s older sister was left alone in her crib for an unknown period of time. The report sparked no action. Jayma’s grandfather, Steven Betts, said he could not understand why county officials kept using Family Assessment after investigators determined that Jayma’s parents each committed five acts of maltreatment in 2006. Author’s Note: The use of “maltreatment” to describe the rape and torture of a child is a euphemism that hides the brutality, cruelty and lifelong trauma visited upon the child.
The first report alleging sexual abuse was filed in 2009. It was screened out. So was a report when her sister’s mouth was taped shut for screaming.
Jayma’s parents lost custody of one sibling in 2014, after her birth father was arrested on drug charges and police found multiple bruises in various stages of healing on her body. The girl, who is mentally disabled, remained in foster care until she turned 18 in 2020.
“I know what it feels like when you are not heard by the people who are supposed to protect you,” said Jayma, who is now 18 and attending her first year of college. Altogether, there were 41 reports of abuse and neglect involving Jayma and her two siblings between 2004 and 2021, court records show. Just seven of them led to investigations.
Other reports have been referred to Family Assessment after parents have punched, choked and dragged their children by their hair, records show. In 22 cases in which parents were wholly or partly blamed for a child’s death, county workers assigned at least one prior report of abuse or neglect to Family Assessment, sometimes within months of the fatality, court records show.
Jayma said her stepfather began sexually abusing her when she was 6. She said it continued until she was 12 or 13.
State law specifically excludes sexual abuse reports from Family Assessment. But state regulators discovered at least 183 reports involving suspected sexual abuse were wrongly steered to Family Assessment since 2015, when Minnesota began conducting spot checks of the program. This CASA guardian ad Litem has seen about half of his caseload (50 children) include sexual abuse of children. Three of them under four years old.
TWO year old death: In Hennepin County, workers sent a report to Family Assessment when a mother got into a car accident with her 2-year-old daughter after drinking five shots of vodka, court records show. The girl died eight months later when her mother left her in the care of her 17-year-old boyfriend, who kicked the child to death. Workers blamed the mother for failing to protect her child.
Multiple screened-in reports may be seen as a single case if they involve the same child or family. In 2021, there were more than 31,000 screened in reports that were treated as about 24,000 cases.
Once screened in, reports are either investigated to determine if a child has been maltreated, or referred to Family Assessment, which is designed to determine what supports a family may need.
Parents are not held accountable for their actions in a Family Assessment case because workers do not issue maltreatment findings. In 2021, 64% of cases were referred to Family Assessment. It should be noted that if I, or anyone else did to these children what their parents had done, they would be charged criminally and most likely go to prison.
Experts say no more than a third of credible abuse and neglect reports should be funneled into Family Assessment. MN sent 65% in 2022.
Several states, including Oregon and Louisiana, have discontinued their use of programs such as Family Assessment because of child safety issues, a lack of data showing effectiveness or other concerns, according to a 2019 report from a research group affiliated with the nonprofit American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children.
It should be noted that at this time with child death occurring at the hands of caregivers while known to Child Protective Services at records never seen before, Guardian ad Litem program management is seeking to eliminate the CASA Community guardian ad litem organization from Minnesota. If successful, 10,000 trained and passionate volunteers that have served children in CPS for 40 years will not be available to support these children (or the institution of Child Protection) in the years to come.
Mike Tikkanen speaks about child abuse/trauma/healing and community
at schools, colleges, workplaces, events, etc.; To learn more:
send an email to email@example.com with SPEAKING in the subject line.
Mike’s INVISIBLE CHILDREN book can be read and listened to (for free)here.
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- Mike is A KARA founder/Executive Director and founding board member at CASAMN.
Please share this post widely – especially with your
State Rep and County Commissioner
(they make these policies)
THANK YOU STAR TRIBUNE REPORTERS!
Reporting Jeffrey Meitrodt, Jessie Van Berkel, MaryJo Webster & Chris Serres
Photography Aaron Lavinsky
Photo editing Nicole Gutierrez, Emily Johnson & Katie Rausch
Digital design Dave Braunger
Graphics Yuqing Liu
Editing Katie Humphrey & Eric Wieffering
Copy editing Adelie Bergström & Catherine Preus
Digital engagement Sara Porter, Nancy Yang, Amanda Anderson & Jenni Pinkley
HOW TO GET HELP
People can find mental health information and resources for crisis care on NAMI Minnesota’s website, namimn.org. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor.
If you suspect child abuse, report it to the county where the child lives. Contact information is at tinyurl.com/3bkwukax.
The Star Tribune is continuing to report on Minnesota’s child protection system. We would like to hear from families, social workers, judges, guardians ad litem and others who have been involved in child protection. Our reporters will not share your information without your permission. You can reach Jeffrey Meitrodt at 612-673-4132 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jessie Van Berkel is at 651-925-5044 or email@example.com. If you’d like to submit a letter or commentary about this story or series, use this link.