Child abuse story strikes a chord

We’ve had a fair amount of response to the MPR story on the decline in reports of child abuse in Minnesota. Few people seem to believe child abuse is actually on the decline.

Here’s a sample:

“My wife is a teacher and has to call child protection services quite frequently. She is often told that they can’t do anything, or given the “what do you want us to do about it” response. Maybe the drop in requests for help is because people realize they won’t get any help, so requesting help is a waste of time.” — Minnetonka

The fact is, Minnesota has been grossly overreacting to alleged child maltreatment for as long as reliable records are available, which is about a decade.

Year after year, Minnesota takes away children at one of the highest rates in America. Even now, with all the improvement in recent years, (and there has been real improvement) that rate is nearly double the national average and more than double and triple the rate in states that are, relatively speaking, national models for keeping children safe.

As the story itself points out, “70 percent of the cases involve neglect.” But definitions of neglect are so broad that any impoverished family can be defined as “neglectful.” This confusion of poverty with neglect is the single biggest problem in American child welfare.– Alexandria, Va.

Would have appreciated a deeper treatment of this story. Community-based practitioners working with children and families know from experience that it has become increasingly difficult to access child protection. Cases that would have been opened 5-10 years ago – routinely go un-investigated. The impression is that the threshold for response has been rising. In addition the when the CPS system does response they often do so in erratic and unpredictable manner – making professionals sometimes hesitant to make reports. Please go deeper – there is a more complicated story! — Minneapolis

The Hennepin County study referred to showed that most of the decrease was due to a reduction in referrals from non-mandated reporters, that is from relatives, neighbors, community members rather than physicians, teachers etc. At this point no one has come up with solid information on why this might be. People quoted in the article speculate on reasons such as changed societal attitudes, but there are other viewpoints that were not included. One that I have heard is that poor communities in general and communities of color in particular have become sufficiently distrustful of the child welfare system that they believe children will be better off in almost any situation than if the authorities become involved. There is no solid research on this either, but it would have been better had the story consulted some leaders in these communities to surface any other points of view. — St. Paul

  • Lily

    The threshold for CPS to take reports is way higher than in years past. Community non profit programs, a source of many reports, have lost funding. There are fewer and fewer school social workers and nurses to make reports.

  • Al

    I have no hard data, just my now 4-6 year old anecdote. When we were living in our last house I called 911 on a very regular basis for drug dealing, loud parties, domestic violence, and other offenses by our next door neighbors. I frequently told the 911 operators and the MPLS police officers who often (though not always) showed up that there were 4 school aged children living there. Did child protective services ever visit? Not that I am aware of. The comment about knowing the difference between poverty and neglect maybe a worthwhile point to consider. However it does not come into play when drugs, guns, and loud parties on school nights are regular features of the home.