Sweeping changes to how Minnesota handles child protection cases are being proposed by a task force, which has put forward more than 90 reforms designed to turn around the current, struggling system.
The Child Protection Task Force set up by Governor Mark Dayton has proposed 93 changes to child protection policies, which recommends the state spend more on protection, hire more social workers and improve their training.
The task force was set up in the wake of the tragic case Eric Dean, a 4-year-old who died at the hands of his stepmother after concerns over maltreatment had been reported by caregivers on 15 occasions.
In his recent budget, Dayton has pledged an additional $52 million towards implementing the task force's recommendations. Last week he signed into law changes that will allow child protection workers to consider previous reports of abuse when investigating new ones, and which prioritizes the safety of the child ahead of preserving the family.
Other key changes proposed include:
- Ensure counties and tribes use standardized guidelines when following up on reports of child maltreatment.
- All reports of maltreatment must be sent to law enforcement, even for reports that are not investigated by child protection services.
- Create a statewide child abuse and neglect reporting system, including the creation of one phone number to call, with callers then routed to the appropriate local agency.
- More training for social workers, such as for interviewing techniques that can help them become more culturally sensitive and help address the racial disparities in child welfare.
An end of 'two track' protection
One of the main changes put forward in the draft proposals is a move towards ending the existing "two track system" of children protection.
Currently, a social worker will submit a maltreatment report into the child protection system, at which point a screener (which can be an individual or a team of trained supervisors or investigators) makes a decision on whether the case is funneled to "family investigation" or "family assessment."
If it goes to "family assessment," the Star Tribune reports a social worker will not determine whether a child has been mistreated, or identify who is responsible. Family assessment focuses more on engaging with families and is "less adversarial."
Family investigation involves a deeper probe of abuse allegations by social workers to "get the facts." The task force wants to move towards a one-track system in which all accepted child protection cases involves a level of this fact-finding.
Currently more than 70 percent of abuse reports followed up by the state goes to family assessment, a level described as "beyond that of other states." The task force says that no "high risk" abuse reports should go to family assessment, according to the Star Tribune.
In the short-term, the task force wants fewer cases submitted for family assessment, and more consistent monitoring to see whether a child is benefiting from intervention, whichever track their case is on.