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Amy Martin • Detroit Free Press/MCT,

Who will speak for Minnesota's abused kids?

  • Article by: Mike Tikkanen
  • May 2, 2014 - 9:03 PM

It hurts me to see people in high positions who are responsible for child protection make claims that there’s nothing to see here, things are just fine, child protection is working as it needs to (“Counties are committed to safety of kids,” April 25).

 

There is very little fine about it, and by accident or by design, information about it is hard to find and rarely published. By almost any measure and from my perspective over many years as a volunteer guardian ad litem within the system, there are not enough resources, record keeping is poor, child protection cases need to be over the top to get into the system, and children stand only a small chance of getting what they need to recover from the years of abuse and neglect they have suffered.

Things have gotten worse since Minnesota went from screening out one-third of the cases to screening out two-thirds. Screening out 90 percent of cases (as four Minnesota counties do) is a very big deal.

Abused and neglected children have no voice. They are invisible, silent, until a mandated reporter makes a report and it is recorded somewhere (and the report is not ignored or discarded) or until a baby is found raped or killed and makes the paper. Thank you, Brandon Stahl, Star Tribune reporter, for “7 of 10 abuse calls not checked” (April 20). The discrepancies between counties when it comes to child protection are a very serious matter. It’s not OK to leave children in dangerous homes. It’s cruel.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz’s statements that “90 percent of the youth in the juvenile justice system have come through child protection services” and “the difference between that poor child and a felon is about eight years” are still true today.

Social workers, educators, foster and adoptive parents, and others working with abused and neglected children work with the training, resources and support that they have. Short them, and we short children.

While counties offer services to some of the two-thirds of families that are screened out in Minnesota, most of those services are declined. The child remains in a home that could very well be toxic and nothing is done. About half of my guardian ad litem cases involved child sexual abuse (one as young as 2, two as young as 3 and none older than 11 when the abuse started).

The good news is that we are finally talking about this. Until the layers of this onion are peeled, and the layers of inadequate and problematic policies are identified and discussed, we will live with the racial disparities, education, safety and justice issues that would be solvable except for our own negligence.

Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter’s argument that it’s misleading to compare Minnesota to other states proves the point that we are scared to death to measure or investigate this “onion.”

We are living with fourth and fifth generations of abused and neglected children raising their own families of abused and neglected children. Coping skills do not come with the stork. Non-coping children become dysfunctional, mentally unhealthy adults.

Once the cycle is broken, children grow up to lead productive lives and have families with happy, successful children. Until the cycle is broken, we will live with very unhealthy adults, crime, troubled schools and full prisons. The cycle will not be broken until we put these issues on the table, discuss them and come up with better answers.

I’m tired of people talking about how highly our community values children. We pay day care workers about the same wage as food service workers, and our day care workers don’t have degrees in mental health or other fields as they must in other advanced nations. We expel more children from day care than any other industrialized nation. The United States leads the world in sexually transmitted diseases among its children. About a third of the children in the child protection system are taking psychotropic medications (they can’t argue about it); in the juvenile justice system, that number is doubled. We trail the industrialized world in reducing child poverty and our records on prenatal care and fetal-alcohol births are abysmal.

This is how we value children.

Social workers are trained to not speak about these things. There really is no one to speak for abused and neglected children unless the child is lucky enough to have a guardian ad litem willing to speak out. These children need a louder voice in our community.

Become that voice for children. Contact your legislator about supporting funding for early-childhood programs. Call now; it’s important.

 

Mike Tikkanen is founder of Kids At Risk Action in Hopkins (invisiblechildren.org).

© 2014 Star Tribune