Counterpoint: Following up on child abuse reports

  • Article by: RICH GEHRMAN
  • Updated: April 30, 2014 - 6:40 PM

Without adequate data, it’s difficult to know if Minnesota is doing its best to protect kids.

Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter’s explanation for why Minnesota responds to, or “screens in,” far fewer child abuse reports than other states fails to account fully for the magnitude of that gap (“Counties are committed to safety of kids,” April 28).

Federal data show that Minnesota screens in only 28 percent of child maltreatment reports, compared with 62 percent nationally. Only two other states have rates as low as Minnesota’s, while 36 screen in at least 50 percent.

If they’d lived in an “average” state, 22,000 more Minnesota children would be visited by a child protection worker every year. Although the number of Minnesota child maltreatment reports increased 21 percent between 2008 and 2012, the number of child protection responses increased only 3 percent. Conversations with many professionals who refer children to child protection and the findings of a 2012 study by the Office of the Legislative Auditor have convinced us that more of these reports should have been evaluated.

Without better information, however, it is difficult to tell which maltreatment reports should have been acted upon. That’s why our organization has proposed legislation that would require counties to track the number of times they screen out children without action. This would identify patterns of non-responsiveness.

We also recommend that Minnesota embrace the outcomes-based strategy developed by the federal Children’s Bureau. In this approach, every time a child gets into the child protection system, he or she would be assessed as to level of trauma, physical and cognitive development, mental health, and behavioral health issues. If the system is working, these measures will improve over time. This is an objective, administratively simple, results-focused way to tell if county practices are effective.

Rich Gehrman is executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota

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