Audit: child protection system lacks guidance

ST. PAUL (AP)-Agencies charged with protecting the state’s children from abuse and neglect need someone to watch them more closely, according to a legislative audit.
“There has been very limited accountability for child protective services in Minnesota,” said the report, released Tuesday.
The report’s recommendations include:
ùAdoption by the Department of Human Services of clearer definitions of maltreatment.
ùConsideration by the agency and the Legislature of options for improved oversight.
The audit said many pediatricians and school social workers lack confidence in the system.
“Many of these people do not feel well-informed about the criteria that child protection agencies use to make decisions,” the report said.
Also, 18 percent of families found to have maltreated their children had a similar finding within three years in the same county, the report said.
“It might be possible to protect some children more effectively through better risk assessments, longer family monitoring, and greater willingness by counties to take uncooperative families to court,” the report said.
The rates of maltreatment investigations and determinations also varied widely by counties.
For example, statewide the rate of physical abuse per 1,000 children from 1994-96 was 2.7. The leading county in that category was Cottonwood with 8.5, followed by McLeod with 8.1. The counties with the lowest rates were Itasca at 0.6 and Wright at 1.2.
In the sexual abuse category, Cottonwood tied with Hubbard at 2.1, compared to the state average 0.8. On the lower end, Swift County’s rate was 0.2, while Scott and Wright both had 0.3.
The state rate for neglect cases was 5.3. Polk was highest at 14.0, followed by Swift at 12.3. Sherburne was lowest at 1.5, with Itasca at 2.0.
Human Services Commissioner David Doth’s written response was included in the audit. He said the audit confirmed what was suspected: There is variance in county practice.
“There needs to be consensus about whether, when, and how government should intervene in the lives of families in order to protect the interests and safety of children,” Doth wrote.
He also said the state is working to provide greater accountability by the counties and expects new rules to be in place shortly.
The report was directed by the Legislative Audit Commission last May. Several years were studied depending on the category.