- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The child protection agency in Hennepin County has been ignoring reports of child abuse to ease its caseload and control its budget, according to a national child welfare group.

The group, Casey Family Programs, studied the county’s system for months and presented the findings of a report released last week to the Hennepin County board on Thursday.

Casey Family Programs director Dee Wilson also told the board that child protection workers commonly screened out abuse reports, which means families weren’t visited and services weren’t offered, the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1IhwPjh ) reported. Additionally, neglect cases are looked at as being low priority, with many of them not getting investigated, and then frequently are closed without the agency doing anything to help children, Wilson said.

Janine Moore is area director of children and family services. She disputes the claim that cases were ignored to reduce the agency’s workload. The county follows state statutes when considering how to handle reports, she said.

“We have never made decisions based on caseloads,” Moore said.

About 30 percent of families reported for neglect are offered services, with the remaining reports either getting screened out or closed without providing help to the children, according to Moore.

County Commissioner Marion Greene, head of the board’s Human Services committee, said the group’s presentation is a “call to action.”

“Today dialed up the urgency,” Greene said. “We have got to change the way we protect kids.”

Child protection procedures in Hennepin County are different from state and nationwide practices in other key areas, including a lack of specialized criteria for dealing with reports of an infant who’s abused, Casey Family Programs representatives told the board.

The county also performs significantly worse than the rest of the state and country when it comes to chilredn being removed from their homes and then returned within a month. That likely means that the children should have been kept in out-of-home care longer or never should have been removed in the first place, Sanders said.

Although Casey Family Programs has done similar research numerous times with other child protection agencies, it was “puzzled by the degree of difficulty” it took to do the Hennepin County report, Wilson said.

Even though social workers were promised anonymity for their cooperation, they were still fearful of retribution from leadership if it was discovered that they participated in the study, Wilson said.

“You have a very fractured and fragmented staff,” Wilson said. “There was a lot of fear and anxiety.”

Moore claims that the county’s child protection managers have never threatened retaliation against workers for participating in Casey Family Program’s study.

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Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com

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