Case Workers: Changes to Child Protection System are Leaving Kids Less Safe

June 27, 2017 06:36 PM

For years now, the governor and community members have put pressure on the state's child protection system to improve, to be better and to keep kids from falling through the cracks. On Tuesday a call came to slow down.

Multiple groups are asking lawmakers to stop and take a look at what these changes are truly doing in the system and testifying that kids in child protection are worse off now than they were before these changes began.

"I believe that the original task force and everybody here advocating for change on behalf of this system had the best intentions, but there are some unintended consequences of the recommendations and changes that have actually left kids in this state less safe than they were before those recommendations happened," said Sara Crotteau with Hennepin County Child Protection.

She testified Tuesday, in front of the Legislative Task Force on Child Protection begging for case workers to have a say in any further changes.

The critical workforce is overwhelmed. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reported on case loads rising since changes started taking place in the child protection system in 2015.

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RELATED: Child Protection Workers, Police and Courts Need Faster Access to Crucial Information

Crotteau was joined by more than 20 other case workers showing support, telling the lawmakers who are charged with implementing these changes that they're workloads have reached an emergency level.

With so much stress put on those interacting with the children, they say they're developing anxiety-ridden illnesses like Bell's Palsy.

RELATED: Lawmakers Begin Talks on Data Sharing within the Child Protection System

"Being responsible for 59 children who all need to be seen at least once a month... obviously we would love to do it more than that... is just not feasible so its no wonder that kids in the system are falling through the cracks," said Crotteau.

Workers' case loads are rising for many reasons.  One of which involves the growing attention the public is giving child protection.  

RELATED: Hennepin County Child Protection Oversight Committee Seeks $26 Million to Overhaul System

With that comes the call for transparency.  It was another one of the 93 recommendations put forth by the Governor's Task Force in 2014 with the idea that knowledge is power.

That ties into the need for data sharing between police, family court, case workers, hospitals and more. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reported on how a connected system could relieve hours of clerical work for overwhelmed case workers back in September 2016. Still to this day, no progress has been made on that front.

RELATED: Children at Risk: Foster Children's Rights Ignored

"I know Minnesota likes confidentiality. But really, I mean when it comes to the life of a child, we should be able to talk with each other between family court, criminal court, the police. ... the court systems; so if you're deciding where a child is going, you should be able to know if that parent has been convicted of a crime," Dr. Lisa Hollensteiner said.

Hollensteiner sat on the Governor's Task Force on Child Protection and helped identify and prioritize what needs to change within the system.

Some counties, like Hennepin, deeply believe that most families involved in child protection need resources from social services, like help with rent, yet many times those issues are being confused and addressed through the child protection system.

RELATED: Attorney: Hennepin County Child Protection System Needs Overhaul

A representative with the NAACP pleaded with lawmakers to look at how the changes they're implementing are affecting minority families.

"Same situation with the black family, same situation with the white family," said Kelis Houston, Chair of the NAACP Child Protection Committee. "The white mother is able to keep her child within the home, the black mother gets her child removed and has to fight even harder and for a longer period of time to get her child back in her care."

In Hennepin County, about 75 percent of the 1,600 kids in foster care right now are children of color.
Half of those kids are black.

"We need to deal with the issue immediately if we have more kids who are in more harm now more than ever because the purpose of this task force is to stop that - is to reverse that trend," Sen. Jeff Hayden said.

Lawmakers vowed to take a deep dive into the current system to try and identify if any of the changes that have been made in recent years are hurting vulnerable children.

Every person who testified to the task force on Tuesday left asking only for a seat at the table to help offer other solutions.

Credits

Katherine Johnson

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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