Nearly two weeks have passed since a Star Tribune story shocked the state with the tragic details of Eric Dean’s short, miserable life. The 4-year-old boy from Starbuck, Minn., was bitten and battered by his father’s girlfriend, then died of fatal abuse in February 2013 despite repeated reports filed by his concerned day care providers.
State lawmakers and policymakers now need to do more than lament Eric’s sad death. It’s time to move quickly to identify and implement the reforms needed to prevent another Minnesota child from ending up in an early grave.
This week, Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) officials stepped up and identified a blindingly obvious starting point. DHS officials said they will seek to overturn a law that prevented officials from considering previous abuse reports that had been rejected, in some cases because they lacked supporting details.
Fifteen reports had been filed on Eric at the time of his death. The state law, which codified practices in place for several years, appears to have prevented county officials from identifying a pattern of abuse and acting accordingly.
On Wednesday, DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson sensibly told an editorial writer that the scrutiny needs to go beyond that issue. Criteria for investigating abuse reports needs a hard look, she said. So do the methods that officials use to investigate abuse reports.
The resources that officials possess to safeguard Minnesota children also need to be in the spotlight. Funding for these services has suffered serious declines since 2003. Has fealty to state budget cuts put kids in jeopardy?
DHS shouldn’t undertake this complex review on its own. State lawmakers must assess the system and their own role in improving it. A legislative hearing is needed this fall so that fixes are ready to roll when session convenes in 2015. The state is waiting for legislators to step up and lead.