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Nonprofit makes 39 recommendations to reduce child fatalities from maltreatment

(The Center Square) – Minnesota should limit the use of Family Assessment, a nonprofit citizen’s group says.

Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota made 39 recommendations in its report last week following evaluation of cases involving 88 Minnesota children who died from maltreatment between October 2014 to June 2022. Two of the children were killed in another state after child protection history in Minnesota.

The project reviewed data and records from Minnesota counties, courts and media reports. The group identified 75 of the cases through online media outlets, eight through Violence Free Minnesota, and five through counties that volunteered information.

According to the report, the Department of Human Services said 161 children died due to maltreatment from January 2015 through April 2022. The department declined to share the names of children whose cases weren’t reported in the media, the report said.

“Our analysis demonstrates that many of these deaths were preventable and were due to a child welfare philosophy which gave such high priority to the interests of parents and other adults in households, as well as to the goals of family preservation and reunification, that child safety and well-being were regularly compromised,” the report said.

The nonprofit asked subject matter experts and coders to apply the Guidelines for Family Assessment from the Department of Human Services to the cases they reviewed to determine whether cases assigned to Family Assessment were consistent with the guidelines.

“Their feedback was that the overwhelming majority of FA assignments were incompatible with them, usually in multiple ways,” the report said.

Twenty of the 59 fatality cases with Minnesota child protection history weren’t investigated by child protection services. Those cases include that of Sophia O’Neill of Hennepin County, who was killed by her mother’s boyfriend. Child protection received four maltreatment reports, including three opened for family assessments.

The nonprofit recommended only allowing cases to be assigned to Family Assessment one time and never if the alleged victim is under 4 years old; limiting the use of Family Assessment to 20% to 30% of low-risk cases; asking outside experts to analyze whether screening practices should change; ending advance notice of the initial child protection visit; interviewing children separately from and before adults; requiring Family Assessment case notes to say if maltreatment occurred; and naming victim and perpetrator.

Among the child fatalities, coders identified 14 cases, including Sophia O’Neill’s, that involved torture or indicators of torture.

The report also recommended increasing spending on programs, such as Early Learning Scholarships, that have a documented ability to reduce child maltreatment. It advocated requiring parents to demonstrate that they’ve addressed the issues that caused children to be removed before trial home visits or reunification.

“DHS works with stakeholders across the child welfare system to ensure that the safety and well-being of all children involved in the child welfare system is primary,” the Department of Human Services said Monday in a statement provided to The Center Square. “The child welfare system includes stakeholders from DHS, counties, tribes, law enforcement and the courts. Each tragedy is devastating and we will continue to work alongside advocates throughout the state, including Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, partners and families to ensure children are safe and well cared for in our state.”

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