- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Hennepin County committee gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a proposal that would add about 100 more child protection workers to help some of the area’s most vulnerable kids.

The proposal, which will cost about $9 million a year, it will go before the full county board next month.

In recent months, three children who were known or had family members who were known to child protection services have died. One was 10-year-old Barway Collins, whose father was charged in his killing.

Commissioners say every part of the department needs to be examined, the Star Tribune reported.

“The county board is going to be looking a lot of aspects of our child protection system, and leadership is one of those aspects we will look at,” Commissioner Linda Higgins said. “We’ll be making changes as necessary.”

A recent county-commissioned report says budget cuts have hurt every aspect of the county’s child protection system, from screening to investigation and case management. It said Hennepin County has a higher rate of repeat maltreatment than the state as a whole - 10 percent in the county compared with 5 percent of recurring cases statewide.

“We can do better. We can always do better. And one death is always too many,” Rex Holzemer, assistant county administrator for human services, told KSTP-TV.

Holzemer told Minnesota Public Radio News that new staffers will help bring the county back to levels that existed before the economic downturn. He said since the cuts around 2008, staff levels haven’t grown with increased caseloads.

“It’s been really difficult on staff,” Holzemer told MPR. “It’s been very challenging for them to address the complex issues on these child protection cases when they’ve got higher numbers of cases.”

Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a law mandating changes to the way child protection cases are handled. The Legislature approved $52 million for child protection reforms, including money for extra staffing for counties.

The new staff in Hennepin County would be funded annually with $3.6 million in county funds and $4.9 million from the new state funding.

Hennepin County will pay for the new hires this year out of an existing budget, but commissioners say keeping the workers will require an increase in property taxes.

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