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Child protection focus of County Board (10/21/2012)
By Sarah Squires

The Winona County Board is expected to discuss child protection services on Tuesday during its regular meeting, but the information in the board agenda only refers to four cases in recent months.

Included in the agenda are two spreadsheets that note whether the county performed to state and federal standards when responding to reports of abuse and neglect. With so few cases represented, many areas show the county meeting expectations 100 percent of the time, and with just one or two cases measured in certain evaluation areas.

The numbers show the system is still struggling with required social worker visits with abused or neglected children, and “risk assessment and safety management” of those children.

This is the first time in recent years that the board has actually examined data with regard to child protection services. Last December, members of the Human Services Advisory Committee attempted to have the board examine the service after state measurements showed some major deficiencies with the program, from poor response times for the most serious reports of abuse, to managing and assessing risk and safety of children in the system.

The advisory group was not given time on the board agenda, so instead it approached the board with a plea for help during an open microphone session prior to a board meeting. Committee members split a prepared statement into pieces so it could all be read to commissioners as each speaker was cut off at the two-minute mark.

County commissioners at that time hired a consultant for $14,500 to look into the entire human services department. The consultant concluded that the department had been stressed over changes and staff reduction and replacement, but that things were going well. He did not, however, report on the results of the state child protection review nor examine the child protection data that had proven alarming to the advisory group.

The board has never reviewed the child protection data that prompted that concern.

During the time frame in which county child protection services struggled the most to meet state and federal protection requirements (end of 2011), many families were reportedly dealing with a parent or parents struggling with a synthetic drug addiction. Parents abusing the new synthetic compounds were often absent from the home, and would disappear for days or weeks. Between April and June, 2011, officials responded within 24 hours to the most serious complaints in 75 percent of cases. Between July and September of that year, only 33 percent of the most serious cases were investigated within the mandated 24-hour time frame.

The more recent data, which is included in the board agenda (from April through September 2012), includes no information on the timeliness of investigating the “most serious” complaints, unlike in the state report from 2011. The county data does show the program is meeting requirements, generally, for timely responses to reports of maltreatment. The recent data on the four cases shows that the county program has properly assessed and managed risk and safety in about 66.67 percent of cases in the months measured in 2012, up from 37.5 in 2011. 


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