I am not sure if the average person knows that child protection in Minnesota began by using laws that protected animals as a foundation for creating the contemporary child welfare system.

This system has surely changed in the last 100 years, but like most programs focused on the vulnerable and voiceless, it has to a large extent been ignored in its financing structure over many generations.

Counties in Minnesota pay for the majority of costs associated with placing children in foster homes.

A Star Tribune reporter deserves credit for opening this can of worms regarding child protection a couple of years ago. But the reports focus on the extremes and on issues that are not at the core of maintaining the necessary infrastructure. The reporting hints at symptoms of a system that lacks the resources to build the workforce and care ecosystem necessary to protect the most vulnerable people in our society (“Abused kids wait days to get help,” Feb. 7).

The system redesign for child protection in Minnesota last year certainly will help provide a better safety net for our population of children long-term. But it has stigmatized the professionals working in the system. Social workers and others who are doing extraordinarily difficult and high-pressure work, under tight deadlines for modest pay, deserve our respect.

On a daily basis these folks see what none of us wants to see — children being destroyed by neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and living in environments most people can’t understand and, frankly, don’t want to know about. Our dirty secret in Minnesota and in this country is the abuse and neglect of children that continues each and every day.

It’s heartbreaking stuff that, when revealed, spurs a movement, as it did in Minnesota last year — but then silence. Why? Because we don’t want to know that more children are abused and are dying at the hands of their parents or guardians.

That’s only natural. It’s not that people don’t care; they just want it to be taken care of.

In order to ensure that Minnesota and its counties continue to have a good system for protecting children now and into the future, we cannot allow the continual cuts to basic funding of child protective services. Yes, the Legislature approved funding last year for additional child protection workers, but guess what? It withheld 20 percent of the funds even before moving forward with the new recommendations. Counties in Minnesota still had to hire and pay the workers. Although these steps are welcomed, they don’t come close to making up the cuts made to basic funding for child protection in the 2000s.

Let’s at least be honest about child protection funding in Minnesota. We have dedicated professionals who will do the work, but we need champions at the Legislature and in Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration who will go above and beyond what was done last year to confirm that one of our basic rules of civilized society is to place our children’s safety first.

In 2016, we have a financing structure in place that reflects the world of 20 years ago more than the present day. What happened last year was something, but it fell woefully short of really addressing the financial needs of the system.

This isn’t a call for more government and endless spending. This is a basic need of society — as basic as food, water and schools.

If we can’t build a proper infrastructure for protecting our children, then what is the point of doing anything?

 

Christopher J. Sorensen, of Marshall, Minn., is director of Southwest Health and Human Services, a multicounty agency.