Special Efforts Being Made in Minnesota to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities

In 2015, the Minnesota State Legislature amended Minn. Stat. § 626.556 to provide that when determining whether a maltreatment report will be screened in or out, the agency receiving the report must consider, when relevant, all previous history, including reports that were screened out.   The Legislature then provided an additional $22 million to assist counties in hiring additional workers to meet the expected increase in caseloads. [Recommendation 7.3]

In March 2015, the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children called for a restructure in the state’s child fatality review process, to provide a critical examination of the elements of the case and the agency’s involvement with the child and his/her family.  It also called on the state to expand the information provided to the public regarding child abuse and neglect fatalities and near fatalities, as well as update guidelines and recommendations regarding caseload sizes and training for social workers and screening guidelines for child protection intakes and investigations, among other things. [Recommendation 7.3]

A pilot project being launched by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and University of Minnesota Duluth is tackling the disproportionate number of Native American children in foster care. The Minnesota Native American Equity Project seeks to research the causes, at various decision points by social service agencies, for the disproportionate number of Native American children in the state’s foster care system. Minnesota has one of the highest rates of out-of-home care for Native American children in the country; in 2015, Native Americans represented 1.9 percent of the Minnesota population but 19 percent of the 13,612 children in out-of-home care. The Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) entered into a contract with the University of Minnesota, Duluth for a three-year pilot that started in St. Louis County, involving the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe and Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. During the three-year pilot, DHS and the university will conduct research, prepare a report, develop curriculum and train county and tribal social services agencies. The first phase of the project involves extensive case file reviews to identify the factors that contributed to decisions to place and/or keep Native American children in foster care. Project staff also hope to incorporate a focus group approach in this first phase, to understand families’ personal experiences with caseworkers and others and to help determine whether there are any inequitable, discriminatory, and/or culturally insensitive aspects to the child welfare and foster care systems. DHS will spend $134,000 per pilot year; this funding is coming out of its existing resources. Once the pilot has concluded, it may be expanded to other regions of the state.   [Recommendation 7.3b]

DHS’ Child Safety and Permanency Division’s Child Fatality/Near Fatality Review Team is working with Collaborative Safety, LLC to develop Minnesota’s onsite child fatality and near fatality review model, utilizing components of the science employed by other safety-critical industries, including aviation and health care. Collaborative Safety is an organization that has applied safety science concepts and principles to reviewing critical incidents, including child fatalities and near fatalities. They partner with child welfare agencies to implement critical incident review processes and create or improve an overall safety culture within child welfare systems. DHS is offering several trainings across the state to child welfare leaders, staff, and partners on the review process, the direction the state is moving, and the lens through which the department will be reviewing child maltreatment fatalities and near fatalities. These trainings will provide local agencies (counties and tribes) with strategies for integrating safety science concepts and safety culture practices into their local systems. This approach has been shown to improve staff engagement, staff retention and most importantly, outcomes for children and families. [Recommendation 5.1]

Local effort in St. Louis County: St. Louis County established the Indian Child Welfare Court in 2015 as a way to offer a better, more culturally sensitive experience to Native American families moving through the legal system. The goal of the court is to address disparity in the number of Native American children placed in foster care and seek family reunification when possible or placement with Native American foster families when out-of-home care is required. [Recommendation 7.3b]

Local effort in Hennepin County: Following a string of child deaths, Casey Family Programs was asked to assess Hennepin County’s child protection system. The 2015 Casey report found, among other things, that 10 percent of the county’s maltreated children experienced further abuse within a year, compared to 5 percent statewide. The report made 23 recommendations. Hennepin County now wants to launch a $26 million program to prevent abuse rather than waiting to act until after it occurs. The money will be spent on additional staff to reduce child protection caseloads, more staff for an outreach program that helps connect parents with the right services, a new child well-being director to head up the initiative and a new “transformation team.”  It is developing a new child well-being model that will connect families to services earlier to help with things like mental health or employment, in hopes of preventing abuse and keeping kids safe and with their parents. In turn, it could reduce child protection reports, out-of-home placements and overall costs. [Recommendations 7.3, 7.1, 5.1]

Local effort in Dodge, Steele and Waseca counties: Through MNPrairie, a merged entity of the public human services agencies of Dodge, Steele, and Waseca counties, front-end child protection staff conduct comprehensive risk and safety assessments utilizing the Safe and Connected child welfare model and framework to make well informed decisions. They develop safety plans with families specific to the identified risks, to reduce the likelihood of abuse or neglect happening again. [Recommendation 7.3a]

Local effort in Olmsted County:  Preventing families from requiring deeper-end child protection involvement remains a priority in Olmsted County. During the last 10 years, families who receive services through the county’s Parent Support Outreach Program (PSOP) have a low rate of repeat reports to social services, maltreatment findings and out-of-home placement.  PSOP is a voluntary program offering short-term services for parents to access when they need support with tasks such as connecting to community resources and information; assistance in planning how to meet daily obligations; parent education and child development; and decision making and case planning. [Recommendation 7.1]

Local effort in Olmsted County: Two family support programs, Project HOPE (Hope, Opportunity, Pride & Empowerment) and PACE (Parents and Children Excel) were developed as part of Olmsted County’s commitment to cultivate a culture of equity and inclusion. These programs initially focused on the empowerment of African American families by engaging them in partnerships that build safety and well-being for children. In 2010, the program expanded to include all families of color. [Recommendation 4.2]

Local effort in Olmsted County:  Olmsted County Crisis Nursery is a family support program that provides temporary, short-term care for children while families address a crisis situation. Care may be arranged for daytime hours or overnight care. Additional services include crisis counseling and support, parent education, in-home family counseling, referral to community resources and kinship services, all at no cost to families. [Recommendation 7.1]

Local effort in Olmsted County: Three Family Support Programs, Bright Futures, Baby Steps and Steps to Success, provide early intervention and case management services to families experiencing challenges adjusting to the birth of a newborn, complicated by stressors such as precarious housing, lack of education, inadequate income, mental health or chemical dependency issues, past or present trauma related to past abuse or domestic violence. Historically, this has been a service delivered by Olmsted County Child and Family Services, in a collaboration with Family Service Rochester and Olmsted County Public Health Services. Services include ongoing support and information on healthy pregnancy, child development, parenting, living skills (housing, budgeting), education, employment, goal setting and decision making, as well as referrals to mental health and chemical dependency providers. In instances where domestic violence is occurring, safety planning and referrals to services for battered women are also provided. Participants typically receive home visits from a social worker and a public health nurse. The program encourages positive relationships between parents and their children, with healthy social and emotional child development as a primary goal. Preventing child maltreatment is of equal importance. [Recommendation 7.1]