Politics and child protection

A St. Louis County child protection worker asked a good question when Gov. Dayton’s task force on the child protection system, formed after an investigation by the Star Tribune revealed how kids are falling through the county and state safety net, held a hearing this week.

David Vukelich had told the panel he needed help, that he’s spending too much time at a desk doing paperwork, that drugs are involved in almost every case he works.

“Are you considering a line worker on the panel?” Vukelich asked.

The high-ranking members of the panel didn’t have much of an answer for him, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

“It is worrisome,” said Jean Sewell, a Lake County child protection worker based out of Two Harbors who spoke after the hearing. “He was dismissed, and that’s a concern for me. I hope this isn’t a politically motivated show.”

The Star Tribune’s investigation put the issue in the political arena, of course, where politicians couldn’t resist.

In an ad unveiled this week, the Republican Party focused on the poster boy for a failed system: Eric Dean, 4, the Pope County boy who was beaten to death by his stepmother after reports of the abuse went uninvestigated.

There’s nothing in the child protection facts of the ad that aren’t true; they’re just incomplete.

Dayton did sign the law, apparently at the request of his Department of Human Services, that restricts child protection workers’ ability to consider previous reports of abuse when looking at new ones.

The Legislature didn’t know what it was doing when it rolled the provision into an omnibus bill — a Legislature made up of DFLers and Republicans, it should be noted. And even in the months since Star Tribune reporter Brandon Stahl broke the story, it’s still not entirely clear what anyone involved in the bill was thinking other than it was an attempt to address racial disparities in child protection. I’ve been unable to find any evidence that provision caused any angst among any legislators when it came up for a vote.

And in the intervening months since the law took effect, nobody had an issue with it until the picture of a young boy with bruises on his face appeared on the front page of a Sunday paper. Why not?

Those questions are now lost in the politics of it all.

The boy’s mother grandmother is furious, the Star Tribune’s Michael Brodkorb, a former Republican operative who knew how to handle red meat, says.

In an emotional phone interview this evening, Yvonne Dean, the mother of Eric’s father David, said Governor Mark Dayton was not to blame for Eric’s death and was highly critical of the advertisement, calling it “unfair.” Dean said the “system failed Eric at the county level…how could that be Governor Dayton’s fault?”

Dean, who self-identified herself as Republican, said “I just can’t believe somebody would use [Eric’s death] for political gain,” adding “I am awestruck that they have done something like this.” Dean said “to use our family’s tragedy, is crossing the line.”

A picture of Eric is featured in the ad, but Dean said the family was not consulted or notified by anyone from the Republican Party of Minnesota that his image would be used. Dean said she “would not have allowed” Eric’s image to appear in the advertisement, adding “a political campaign is not the proper place at all for those images to be used.”

Jeff Bakken, spokesman for Jeff Johnson’s campaign refused to comment tonight. A call placed to the Republican Party of Minnesota requesting a comment about the advertisement was not returned.

Who failed Eric Dean, however, is still an open question, one that the child protection task force might get around to asking. To what extent is the long arm of the state involved in the daily world of the county-employed child protection worker?

One way to answer that question, is to listen closely to what those workers have to say, and put the game of politics aside.

Related: Front-line workers detail child protection challenges (Star Tribune).

  • David

    “One way to answer that question, is to listen closely to what those workers have to say, and put the game of politics aside.”

    On point as usual Bob. I’m not sure if the gentlewomen and gentlemen of St. Paul will be able to resist though.

  • John O.

    Why am I not surprised by this?

  • Emily

    We as a state and, I as a Minnesotan, failed Eric Dean by prioritizing anything above the safety and monitoring of the most vulnerable citizens in our community.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    “it’s still not entirely clear what anyone involved in the bill was thinking other than it was an attempt to address racial disparities in child protection.”

    I can tell you exactly what they were thinking: “It’s an agency bill.” or “The agency wants it.” Happens all the time.

  • Ron

    I couldn’t agree with Mr. Vukelich’s point more. The reality needs to be defined inductively rather than deductively.

  • Lelsia

    It is disheartening that what could be a good opporutinty appears to be more of the same(add more training for social workers to an already over worked and trained staff(most have master’s degrees), etc.. It is true in MN we tend to write up duplicate reports for the same incident(different reporter) thus some higher numbers. Few have worked in the system or if they did it was for a short time or long ago with fewer requirements. Blame always goes downward.