Reforms Initiated by Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children
Beginning in May 2014, the failings of child protection became known to the broader public through a series of articles in the Star Tribune. Citizens responded in particular to the story of Eric Dean, a four-year-old from rural Minnesota who was killed by his stepmother despite 15 reports to child protection. Successive articles in the series related the stories of all 56 children in Minnesota known to have been killed by their parents and caregivers since 2005.
In response, then-Governor Mark Dayton initiated a Task Force on the Protection of Children. The Safe Passage Executive Director was appointed to the Task Force and played an influential role in proceedings. The Task Force completed its work in March 2015 with 93 recommendations that included nearly all of the reforms that Safe Passage had enunciated in its original five-year plan.
What Did the Task Force Recommend?
Some recommendations changed state law. The most important changed the primary purpose of the system to the protection of children, rather than the law’s previous emphasis on keeping the family together through the Family Assessment program. In addition, the law newly stated that parents’ cooperation with counties would no longer be voluntary, even in FA cases. Also, the Legislature added $52 million in funding biannually to child protection to fund additional child protection workers statewide and provide $2.5 million in grants to address racial disparities.
Additional important changes in statute were:
All counties must follow the same guidelines for child maltreatment cases and may not change them without prior approval from the state Department of Human Services
The time required to retain information on screened-out reports was extended from one to five years, to improve counties’ ability to identify chronic maltreatment
The state must develop a quality assurance program to ensure consistent screening
Counties must share maltreatment reports consistently with local law enforcement.
If families do not cooperate with county social services, their cases cannot be closed without prior consultation with the County Attorney
The types of maltreatment reports that require an investigative response were expanded to include all allegations of sexual abuse and other high-risk cases
Workers are encouraged, rather than discouraged, from making collateral contacts.
Supervisory training is now mandatory for child protection supervisors
Mandated reporters must be informed of the disposition of their reports
These recommendations placed into the law are largely being implemented. But counties and the state have not implemented these recommended practice changes that were not placed in statute:
Children who are the subject of abuse reports should be interviewed prior to and separately from adults in their households
Workers should be trained in a common fact-finding protocol to be used in all cases
After each investigation, the investigator must file a report detailing the findings, including whether there was a victim and perpetrator
The state should conduct an independent outside review of child protection practices
What Has Happened Since?
The requirement that the state to promulgate uniform standards for responding to maltreatment reports, and that the counties follow them, has:
Enabled 15,700 more children annually to receive child protection services
Increased the number of child protection and foster care workers from 780 to 1,250
Increased combined federal, state and local expenditures for child protection and foster care from $390 million to $690 million, largely because the additional children coming into the system are eligible for federal entitlement programs, including Medicaid