In Wake Of Boy's Abuse Death, Changes Come To Child Protection
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Outrage over the death of a child has sparked change in Minnesota's child protection system.
Gov. Mark Dayton took a series of executive actions on Monday aimed at protecting kids from abuse and neglect.
Starting immediately, the Department of Human Services will begin monthly random reviews of county screening decisions. Those choices determine whether or not allegations of child abuse are investigated.
The death of a 4-year-old Eric Dean in Pope County prompted the change. The governor said details of how the system failed to protect him, even though there were 15 reports of suspected abuse, are disturbing.
"The picture of 4-year-old Eric Dean smiling at the camera, despite a visible wound on his face, will haunt me for a long time," Dayton said.
The boy's stepmother is now in prison for killing him last year, and the Department of Human Services has been directed to provide all county child protection case workers more support and advice.
"While we save thousands of children, what we have seen still is far too many children fall through the cracks and suffer maltreatment and even death. So we need to take steps immediately working with the counties to address this," said Lucinda Jesson, the Human Services commissioner.
Records from Human Services show there were nearly 68,000 reported cases of child maltreatment in Minnesota last year. That's up from more than 64,000 the year before.
The commissioner addressed the new monthly random screenings.
"To look and see...where is our system is working and where it is failing. But [it will] also to give us an opportunity to immediately intervene in decisions where state protocols are not being followed," Jesson said.
Richard Gerhman runs a nonprofit child advocacy group called Safe Passage for Children. He's glad the state is taking a more active role in child protection.
"The counties have had a lot of freedom in how they run this program, which is fine, but there also needs to be more agreement about what counts as neglect and abuse in the state," he said.
Dayton also announced that a task force on the protection of children is being created. That group will be asked to come up with recommendations that will be presented to state Legislature during the 2015 session.
We don't know yet who will be on that task force.
Gerhman says that one of the difficulties is that standards are broad and vary a lot from county to county, and there's also a training issue. He says these random monthly checks will pick up on patterns and be helpful.
He also shared an interesting statistic: Only 29 percent of the reports of suspected child abuse are investigated in Minnesota. Compared that with the national average of 62 percent.
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