Task force wants more child abuse reports investigated
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — More reports of child maltreatment would automatically prompt an investigation under a plan adopted Friday by the governor’s task force studying Minnesota’s child protection system.
Those are among the second set of changes likely to be recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton’s Task Force on the Protection of Children. The group also endorsed boosting social service workers’ screening process for determining whether some lower-risk reports should be investigated and is also considering whether Minnesota should create a statewide child abuse and neglect reporting system.
Lawmakers headed into this year’s legislative session ready to overhaul the state’s child protection system after a Star Tribune story last year detailing the death of a repeatedly abused 4-year-old boy. Eric Dean was killed by his stepmother in 2013 after numerous complaints lodged with county social services failed to prompt action.
The House and Senate already unanimously passed bills at the task force’s urging that would repeal a law preventing social workers from considering past reports of child abuse when deciding whether to investigate new ones. It also clarifies that child safety — and not keeping a family intact — is paramount.
Reports of abandonment, medical neglect and others would be automatically investigated under the task force’s recommendations adopted Friday. But for now, its plans call to keep in place the so-called family assessment route, a voluntary process with no law enforcement power that has been used more frequently by county social services over the last decade.
Instead, it would institute a fact-finding process of interviews and evidence gathering for all but the lowest-risk reports before they are referred for a family assessment.
“The things that we’re not sure about, we need to do some fact-finding before and decide” whether they need to be investigated, Department of Human Services Commissioner and task force co-chair Lucinda Jesson said.
The task force is expected to finalize its recommendations to lawmakers next week, bumping up against the Legislature’s schedule to pass legislation this year. Jesson noted her agency can unilaterally implement some recommendations.
Dayton has suggested Dayton has suggested setting aside $50 million to implement the changes passed on by the group. Tom Henderon, director of family services in Brown County, pleaded with the lawmakers on the task force to give child protection a direct line of cash rather than leave them to fight over money with other government services.
“We’re always up against highways, ditches and all the rest of county services” and they usually lose, he said. “The money I need to do child protection has to come from somewhere. I’m begging you to find that money before you pass this on to us.”