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.”
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.