Social workers should investigate any allegation of abuse or neglect involving children considered at high risk for maltreatment, a state child protection task force concluded Friday.
Currently, some of those cases are routed to a program called family assessment, which critics say can let abuse go unchecked in the name of keeping families intact. The recommendation to keep high-risk cases out of family assessment is one of several reforms Gov. Mark Dayton’s child protection task force approved as it tries to wrap up its work by the end of the month.Two earlier recommendations of the task force emerged from the Legislature this week with unanimous support, and now await Dayton’s signature: Putting a child’s safety ahead of family preservation, and allowing social workers to consider previous rejected abuse reports when deciding how to handle a new one.Other recommendations approved by the task force Friday include increasing funding and resources for child protection agencies, making more information about child abuse deaths public and reforming the process that counties and the state use to review those deaths.
“The transparency will give the public much more insight on what’s working and what’s not working in the system,” said Lucinda Jesson, the state Human Services commissioner and the task force co-chair.
The role of the state ombudsman for families should also be expanded to ensure that child protection agencies are appropriately following child maltreatment laws, the task force said.
Dayton created the task force last year in response to the Star Tribune’s reporting on child protection failures.The task force already recommended in December more than 30 reforms, many of which urge a more aggressive response to reports of suspected abuse.The task force will hold its final meeting March 23, where it will vote on its final recommendations to give to Dayton and the Legislature.
While many of the other recommendations gained quick consensus Friday, the issue of when to investigate child maltreatment has long divided the task force. Some on the group want to see more cases investigated and fewer in family assessment, where social workers do not determine if a child was abused and who was responsible. Representatives from counties fought to keep family assessment intact, arguing that because it is less confrontational, families are more likely to cooperate with social workers.When the Legislature implemented family assessment a decade ago, it was meant for less serious abuse cases. Yet county child protection agencies have used it to respond to thousands of maltreatment reports for children deemed at high risk for further abuse or neglect, state records show.
“One of the things that troubled me … was why in the world do we have high-risk cases going to family assessment?” Jesson said.
Jesson came up with a compromise. The task force agreed that all high-risk cases be investigated and low-risk cases go to family assessment. When child protection gets moderate risk reports, workers should get more information about the child before determining which track to assign the case.
“High-risk cases do not belong in family assessment,” said Stacy Hennen, Grant County’s Social Services director and a task force member. “There is a recognition from the counties that we need to look at how we’re assigning cases.”