Step One: Stop respecting a parent’s right to hit kids

It’s good news that state officials are going to review the entire child protection system in Minnesota to determine why Pope County rejected so many reports that 4-year-old Eric Dean was being abused and why he eventually was beaten to death.

The part of this that is troubling? The rest of us likely won’t ever know what was wrong with the child protection system that led Pope County to reject so many reports that 4-year-old Eric Dean was being abused.

Lucinda Jesson, the state’s human services commissioner, told All Things Considered host Tom Crann on Tuesday that the whole operation will be reviewed, including a puzzling law that throws out reports of child abuse that weren’t investigated.

And that’s the problem facing child protection workers.

Eric Dean was clearly being pummeled, but the attempts — mostly by teachers and day-care workers — to point out the obvious were judged not to be worth investigating, presumably because it wasn’t considered abuse. And state law prohibits those “screened out” reports from being used to determine if there’s a pattern of abuse.

When child protection workers receive a report, they have to decide “if this report is true, could that be child abuse or neglect?” Jesson said. “If it could be … it shouldn’t be screened out.”

  1. Listen Entire child protection system under review, Jesson says

    September 9, 2014

In the followup story today, the Star Tribune’s Brandon Stahl and Patrick Condon reveal this little nugget:

Jesson’s announcement comes as welcome news to critics of the state’s child welfare system.

Rich Gehrman, the executive director of Safe Passage for Children, an advocacy group, listed a number of changes that he would like to see: measuring whether children in child protection are safer; lifting the prohibitions on counties to consider past reports when deciding whether to investigate a new one; and requiring counties to make public reviews of child death and near-death cases.

Those reports are sealed in Minnesota, despite federal requirements that they be shared with the public.

Pope County, following another puzzling law that prevents the public from getting an answer to the “what happened?” question, has been vague at best when trying to explain how young Eric slipped through its protective grasp.

“We recognize policymakers at all levels share in our sadness over this case,” county coordinator Jim Thoreen told the paper. “We would welcome open dialogue with them as they seek to balance the absolute need to protect children while still respecting the right of parents to raise their children within their own value systems.”

That speaks to the likely underlying problem: We still have respect for parental value systems that include hitting a kid and calling it “discipline.”

Child protection workers are forced to find the fine line between physical discipline and violence.

There isn’t one.

  • Kassie

    When I took Mandatory Reporter training at Hennepin County, over a decade ago, we were taught that the difference between discipline and abuse is if the child is bruised. If the parent leaves bruises, they are abusing the child, so not a fine line. Things may have changed though.

  • It’s pretty simple: Don’t. Hit. Kids.

    • Kassie

      It really isn’t that simple. Lots of people still believe spanking their kids to varying degrees. And spanking (open hand on the butt, not with all your strength) doesn’t hurt kids. It is an effective discipline technique that lots of people still use, especially within certain ethnic groups.

      • melena gasper
        • Kassie

          That’s not what I advocated above. The report is about kids who were subjected to “harsh physical punishment, such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting.” Those things are not spanking. Plus your article says that it leads to increased mental illness, not that it isn’t effective for discipline.

          (And here’s where I say that I would never hit or spank a child, but feel spanking when done properly is not child abuse and parents get to make their own decisions on how they raise their child.)

          • melena gasper

            Spanking with an open hand on the butt is physical punishment. It may not leave a mark but it is physical punishment, and it is not effective. Here’s some light reading:
            http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/10/16/peds.2013-1227.abstract
            http://www.vox.com/2014/6/5/5778940/the-case-against-spanking-kids
            http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sack-md/do-parents-really-know-be_b_4896560.html

          • Ma Bell

            Spare the rod and spoil the child. I guess increased mental illness is the price the child and the society must pay so parents can get the kid to quiet down while daddy watches the game. Sarcasm.

            Perhaps people should not become parents unless/until the have the emotional maturity to deal with the demands kids make. It is unacceptable to solve problems in this world by hitting someone who offends you or refuses to do what you want. This is certainly the case between adults (it’s called assault) and it should be the case between adults and parents. No wonder there are so many bullies in the world society. And pish posh on the standards of different communities. Some communities believe it’s ok to have a dozen wives or marry young girls, but we don’t do it here.

          • Kassie

            I actually have friends who believe in polyamory too. Multiple wives, just like spanking, isn’t always bad. It is how it is implemented.

            Here’s the thing. Almost every singe one of us over the age of 35 were spanked. There is not widespread mental illness that just stops when we get to the age where kids no longer were spanked and now get timeouts. People get to chose how they raise their kids. You may not like it, but it is an acceptable choice.

          • Jack

            polyamory is many loves
            polygamy is many wives
            Having a love of many types of pizza is one thing and another to have love for many wives.
            Spanking: Might makes right

          • Kassie

            Um, that’s not what they do. They have multiple long term partners as do their partners. It isn’t called polygamy because it is both the men and the women and it isn’t “marriage” per se. And I didn’t bring up polygamy, the commenter above me did.

          • Jack

            When I am introduced to a person who is referred to as a ‘wife’, (the term you used “multiple wives”), I correctly assume they are married.
            Face it Kass, I am right and you are wrong. It is ok to be wrong sometimes.

    • David

      I will confess that each of my children got a spanking. Once. An open hand on a clothed bottom. Hard enough to leave a message, but no more.
      The reason on each occasion was that they had engaged in a behavior that was deadly dangerous, but were much too young to understand the risk they had taken.
      My daughter earned hers by running a cross Lyndale Ave when she was about 2 1/2 years old. A car missed her by less than a foot. Yes, she knew better. But she was too young to truly understand what she “knew”, what the danger was. She then learned through experience that running across a busy street will earn a spanking. That she understood.
      My son earned his spanking when he was maybe 4 years old. He and his buddy got busted for the second time in as many days trying to toss a rope over the electric service wire so they could pull it down. Had he succeeded, he would not have had the opportunity to learn a lesson. So, since the conversation from the day before didn’t connect, I opted to teach him that trying to pull down the electric wire will give him sore bottom.
      My kids are now in their 30’s, alive, vibrant and contributing members in our society.
      A young child can’t possibly understand the concept of what really happens if you get hit by a car, burned in a fire, shot with a gun, shocked by electricity or other abstract tragedies that they wouldn’t get a second chance with. A spanking should never be given in anger, but it can be a viable teaching tool in specific instances.

      • Dave

        Thoughtful message. Thanks.

  • Dave

    I have never spanked my kid, and hopefully I never lose my mind and do it. But I can tell you that I understand why some parents spank. They run out of options for punishment, which is where I have found myself many times. Taking away toys has no impact; she doesn’t care. Time outs are of limited use (although luckily they seem to be working a little better lately).

    The main reason why I don’t is because I doubt its effectiveness. I also don’t want my daughter fearing me. That is a worse situation than whatever misbehaviour in which she’s engaging.