A task force charged with recommending how Minnesota can better protect children will feature both defenders of the current system and critics who say it needs major reform.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton announced the makeup of the bipartisan task force on Friday, saying “the abuse of any child in Minnesota is one child too many.”
The appointments come after the Star Tribune’s investigation of the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean, a Pope County boy whose abuse was reported 15 times before he was murdered last year by his stepmother.
The task force members come from across the state, and include former chief justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Appeals Court, four state legislators, heads of social service and law enforcement agencies and child outreach workers for nonprofit agencies.
Minnesota has one of the nation’s lowest rates of taking action on abuse reports. Health providers are required to report any abuse they suspect, but in 2013, child protection services screened out over 36,000 abuse reports made by mandated reporters, according to the Department of Human Services.
Former Minnesota Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz, who is on the task force, said the system has failed thousands of children, not just Eric Dean.
She said she hopes the group will recommend making the child protection process more open. Blatz was instrumental in numerous child protection reforms in the early 2000s, including opening access to juvenile court proceedings.
Many child protections records are still sealed from the public, however, including reports made to the state about children who died and were known to the system.
“One of the breeding grounds for problems is the lack of transparency,” Blatz said.
Rich Gehrman, the head of the advocacy group Safe Passages for Children, said he’ll also call for more transparency. He also wants child protection agencies to measure outcomes for children who go into the child protection system, and for agencies to keep records of cases where they don’t respond to reports for at least four years. The current requirement is for the records to be kept for a year.
The task force will also likely look at the effect of over $30 million in cuts to child protection in the last decade, said Stacy Hennen, Grant County’s social services director and president-elect of the Minnesota Association of County Social Services Administrators.
Larene Broome, a parent consultant for Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota, said the lack of funding has resulted in overwhelmed child protection workers.
The task force’s first meeting has been set for Oct. 13 from 9 a.m. to noon. A location has not yet been selected.
The full list of task force members:
Lucinda Jesson, Co-Chair, Commissioner, Department of Human Services
Toni Carter, Co-Chair, Commissioner, Ramsey County Board
Sheriff Terese Amazi, Mower County Sheriff’s Office
Chief Blair Anderson, St. Cloud Police
Kathleen Blatz, Former Chief Justice, MN Supreme Court
Judith Brumfield, Director, Scott County Health & Human Services
Michelle Zehnder Fischer, Nicollet County Attorney
Peggy Flanagan, Executive Director, Children’s Defense Fund
Rich Gehrman, Executive Director, Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota
Kraig Gratke, Early Head Start Manager Tri-County Community Action Program
MayKao Y. Hang, President and CEO, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Stacy Hennen, Director, Grant County Social Services
Dr. Lisa Hollensteiner, Physician, Emergency Physicians Professional Association
Dr. Mark Hudson, Certified Child Abuse Pediatrician, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of MN
Kathy Johnson, Director, Kittson County Social Services
Carri Jones, Chairwoman, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe
Molly Kenney, Director of Family Services, Crisis Nurseries
Robert O’Connor, Associate Professor, Metropolitan State University
Commissioner Todd Patzer, Lac qui Parle County Board
Larene Broome, Parent Consultant, Prevent Child Abuse Minnesota
Edward Toussaint, Professor, William Mitchell College of Law, and Former Chief Judge, Minnesota Court of Appeals
Jean K. Quam, Dean, College of Education and Human Development
Rep. Ron Kresha, House appointee
Rep. Joe Mullery, House appointee
Sen. Julie Rosen, Senate appointee
Sen. Kathy Sheran, Senate appointee