Why Safe Passage for Children was needed
Safe Passage was incorporated in 2009 because organizations previously working in child welfare advocacy had left this space, primarily because their operating models were expensive and they had limited success in effecting systemic change. This left no one to address alarming trends in child protection and foster care in Minnesota.
Safe Passage called attention to these trends by providing data to policymakers that was previously unavailable, for example:
Minnesota counties were only ‘screening in,’ or responding to, 28% of child maltreatment reports, compared with an average for states nationally of 62%. This meant that each year child protection workers were failing to visit more than 20,000 Minnesota children reported to be in at-risk situations who would have been seen in an average state.
Minnesota historically only contributed 15% of the cost of public child protection programs, third lowest nationally. Most funds were provided by Minnesota counties. Further, Minnesota had cut the share of its costs provided to counties by $25 million annually since 2002.
Of those children who were “screened in” and received a visit from child services, more than 70% were assigned to a program known nationally as Differential Response nationally and as Family Assessment (FA) in Minnesota. FA was intended to engage families more successfully by taking a less punitive approach to child protection. It was planned to serve approximately 20% -30 % of the lowest-risk cases. Over time, however nearly 75 % of all reported cases were assigned to FA. The program also became virtually voluntary and was applied to many high-risk situations, including more than 400 cases of sexual abuse annually.
Family Assessment used questionable social work practices; for example:
- Children were interviewed in presence of their alleged abusers
- Parents and adults in the household were alerted in advance of a visit from a child protection worker
- Workers were not trained in — and in fact were discouraged from – following a fact-finding protocol
- Workers were discouraged from making collateral contacts with other professionals
- Cases ended without any written record of whether maltreatment occurred or who was the perpetrator
- Alleged victims and perpetrators weren’t identified; as a result, repeat reports were not detected
Through a research project conducted with the University of Minnesota Institute of Child Development we also discovered that in Hennepin County:
- Many children were reported 10-15 or more times without a child protection response
- On average, it took 15 months following a maltreatment report for a case to get to court and 37 months to close the case
- Following initial reports, 36 percent of children experienced additional maltreatment while under the court’s protective supervision
- 89 percent of families assigned to Family Assessment never received any services
The results of this study were published in three respected journals.
Data from other counties suggested that these statistics were not unique to Hennepin County.