The Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday passed what they called the first of many efforts to reform the state’s child protection system.
The House voted 130-0 to pass the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. The two-pronged measure first places child health and safety over keeping the family intact when social workers make decisions on how to intervene. It also reverses a law n passed last year that barred social workers from taking previously screened-out reports into consideration during investigations of suspected abuse.
Kresha was part of a bipartisan task force of lawmakers who unveiled an 11-point plan in January to reform the child protection system. The legislation stems from preliminary recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children, launched after Star Tribune reports on the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean, who was beaten to death by his stepmother despite 15 reports to Pope County child protection.
“I will admit there is a lot of work to do and we have a good group of bipartisan legislators working to get that bill done, but first I ask that you answer the knock at the door,” Kresha said.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, asked Kresha why the bill wasn’t more thorough given earlier proposed legislation. Kresha said it was trimmed in part to accommodate Senate legislation, and to await further task force recommendations expected to be released March 31.
Task Force member Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, said the task force held more hearings than any other topic he’s seen in 19 years in the Legislature, and that the consensus is unanimous that the recommendations are a solid start.
“This is just the tiny first step,” Mullery told his fellow House members. “It’s an awful long ways to go, and this is an important first step.”
Kresha, citing statistics, told the floor that in 2013, 25, 597 childern were affected by allegations submitted to Minnesota child protection authorities. Of those, 2,756 were of children that haven’t reached their first birthday. There were 9,754 reports for children under age 5. Seventeen children died, while another 36 suffered life-threatening injuries.