Child protection programs need updating

The recent death of Eric Dean should prompt lawmakers to update the laws regarding kids.

by Brooke Bovee

Four-year-old Eric Dean died in February 2013 after those close to him had filed 15 reports of child abuse on his behalf. Repeated abuse reports from his day care provider, doctors and special education teacher were often ignored. Evidence of Dean’s maltreatment remained.

This tragic death revealed flaws in Minnesota’s child protection system.

To help improve this system, Gov. Mark Dayton recently created the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children.

He has put together a team of experts for a consultation system that child protection workers can contact if they want help making decisions. Dayton has also called for the state’s Department of Human Services to conduct random monthly checks to review child protections workers’ decisions regarding whether to further investigate the child abuse allegations they receive.

Several of the 15 reports from the Eric Dean case were “screened out,” meaning they were closed without investigation. According to a recent article in the Star Tribune, agencies fail to follow up on 71 percent of suspected maltreatment reports.

Minnesota’s child protection system is in need of maintenance, but not just in the decision-making process.

Minnesotans are carrying out the phrase “if you see something, say something.” However, proper action doesn’t always follow reports of abuse. Although Dayton is initiating steps toward progress, the Minnesota Legislature should go beyond a mere revision of the decision-making part of child abuse reports.

Last May, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill to prevent child protection agencies from reviewing past reports of abuse that they had dropped. The measure was intended to prevent racial discrimination and the confusion of poverty with neglect.

This bill should be reversed.

In Eric Dean’s case, several earlier reports of child abuse would have been important and relevant information for protection workers to consult while deciding whether to act.

Past reports are valuable because they can be used to search for a history of possible abuse.

According to child protection task force member Dr. Mark Hudson, abuse screeners outside of Minnesota review past records and consider victims’ history when they decide whether to investigate a new report.

It is important that witnesses continue to report signs of child abuse. In Eric Dean’s case, 15 reports from several different sources don’t sound like anyone was “crying wolf.” The child protection system needs complete revision on both state and county levels.

Only this will ensure that investigators can take the correct actions.