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After shocking case, Minnesota plans new look at child protection

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Minnesota leaders plan to launch a sweeping analysis of how the state protects children in the wake of a shocking story of a boy killed at the hands of his stepmother – after 15 maltreatment reports.

A Star Tribune special report earlier this month told the heartbreaking tale of Eric Dean, who died in February 2013 at age 4. He had been in the care of his stepmother Amanda Peltier at her home in Starbuck in western Minnesota, and she subsequently was convicted of murder and sentenced to life.

As part of its investigation, the Star Tribune talked to child care providers who had tried in vain to prod Pope County authorities to better investigate abuse of Eric. County officials say they followed the law, and could do little to prove the boy's injuries were from abuse. Critics have sought answers to many questions left by the case. Could police or social workers have done more – how did this boy fall through the cracks?

Now, as Gov. Mark Dayton calls Eric Dean's death a “colossal failure," state leaders are seeking changes to the whole system.

The Star Tribune on Thursday reports that state Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson is seeking to assemble national experts to help evaluate Minnesota’s system, including the Washington State-based Casey Family Programs. She says recommendations for change could come from the review.

Meanwhile, outraged state lawmakers say new legislation is needed to prevent more failures in the state's child welfare system.

And the state’s top child protection official, Erin Sullivan Sutton, is now saying that the state should trash a law passed just months ago that made it harder for social workers to investigate child abuse claims – a law that her DHS office had sought, the Star Tribune reports.

A Star Tribune editorial calls for more change. It urges Dayton to make the issue a priority and calls for legislative attention this fall, as well as a state funding review.

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