Disparities found in child protection screening

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Disparities between 86 child protection agencies might result in future legislation to streamline the collection of data and to close what legislators view as loopholes.

Members of the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee reacted to a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor that recommends more clarity in state laws regarding the screening of child maltreatment cases.

On the whole, the audit states that the agencies do an “adequate” job of screening and referrals, but committee members agreed with the auditor’s recommendations for new laws and statewide rules.

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) noted that some of the state’s child protection agencies allow people to anonymously file a report, even though state law requires the recording of a name and address. He also said there needs to be clearer policy regarding mental abuse, which can be just as damaging as physical abuse.

“If it’s nowhere in law, I think we need to look at it,” he said.

Of the 56,500 child maltreatment allegations reported in 2010, about 18,000 were referred to protective services. Richard Gehrman, executive director of Safe Passage child advocacy agency, said many pre-teen children and teenagers are not even considered because of limited resources within agencies. Also, teens may run away from an abusive situations and so case workers consider younger children more vulnerable, said Andrea Simonett, Catholic Charities homeless youth program director.

“That should be a red flag of sorts,” said Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester). She said homeless teens are often the product of abusive homes and are just as vulnerable. She suggested working on legislation to address the older age group.

However, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said legislators should expect county agencies to “push back” if given unfunded state mandates. It boils down to who is paying the bulk of the services. Counties paid 57 percent of 2010 child welfare costs, compared to 27 percent from federal funding and 10 percent from state funding.

The committee took no action on the report.