- Associated Press - Thursday, April 13, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - State officials say nearly 40,000 children were suspected of being abused or neglected in Minnesota last year, a 25 percent increase from 2015.

The data posted by the Minnesota Department of Human Services also noted a spike in maltreatment investigations, Minnesota Public Radio (https://bit.ly/2p0Czvp ) reported. Of the more than 39,500 children who were the subject of suspected abuse, 16,400 were part of child maltreatment investigations - a 43 percent increase from 2015.

The report didn’t detail what was behind the increase but said it was likely due to in part to “a growing opioid crisis” and an increased awareness about child abuse.

Gov. Mark Dayton focused on child abuse after the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported in 2014 that social service workers didn’t follow up on abuse complaints about 4-year-old Eric Dean before he was killed by his stepmother.

Dayton’s moves have included ordering Minnesota human services officials to conduct monthly random screenings of child protection workers’ decisions. He also created a team of child protection experts to advise county workers.

Preventing child abuse before it occurs must be an important part of the approach, said Jim Koppel , the state’s assistant human services commissioner.

“While it is our job in counties, tribes and at the Minnesota Department of Human Services to protect children from abuse and neglect, all of us, every caring adult in Minnesota, has a role to play to prevent harm from ever happening,” Koppel said in the statement.

Koppel said child abuse can lead to depression, difficulty in school, early pregnancies, substance abuse and unhealthy relationships.

“We must focus on helping and nurturing children, and supporting their parents,” he said.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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