Questions arise after death of Freeborn baby

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 7, 2002

Makaio Lynn Radke was a well-known baby among human service organizations and the police even before his tragic death on April 21 last year.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Makaio Lynn Radke was a well-known baby among human service organizations and the police even before his tragic death on April 21 last year.

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So a question arises: Why couldn’t authorities detect the lethal danger nearing Makaio?

"It is a touchy issue. Each agency has its own agenda and purposes," said Albert Lea Assistant Police Chief Dwaine Winkels. "It is sometimes frustrating."

Child abuse is a crime. But, it is rarely charged unless it involves a tangible criminal act, such as an assault. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension statistics shows that there were only two family/children offenses charged in the county in 2000, which is far from the reality.

Law enforcement officers can take children away from parents for protective custody only when there is an immediate danger. Social workers do not have such jurisdiction.

Most abuse cases are handled by CHIPS – Child in Need of Protection or Services, activated by a petition usually filed by the county. Children placed in the program mostly stay with their family with county oversight for six to 12 months.

CHIPS does not exclude the possibility of criminal charges. But the two measures often conflict with each other since the basic philosophy of the program is to reunite the family.

"Child protection is a complicated business," said Ted Laird, of the Freeborn County human services department. He pointed out that a lot of complaints are made in the process of divorce or disputes over parental right, which requires even more sensitive approach for interfering. Peggy Radke, Makaio’s mother, had recently separated from her husband when the murder occurred.

Currently the county has two social workers designated to investigate complaints. They have 30 to 45 cases all the time, according to Laird.

The investigation does not have a magic formula to determine if the case is substantiated or not.

In addition to verifying a complaint, the social workers need to account for many factors, such as the age of the children and emotional status of parents. Though a large part of the investigation depends on voluntary cooperation by parties involved, the agency has a statutory right to access medical records of children and to interview the children at school.

Still, detecting the warning signs of abuse and intervening quicky and appropriately is extremely difficult task.

Compounded approaches by social services and law enforcement would complement the current statutory limitation for public offices to address the child abuse issue.

Laird said that the agency has already developed a good working

relationship with law enforcement in the past decade to cooperate with one

another. Many cases now are under joint investigation with the police, Laird

said. The social workers now have tighter communication with detectives

specializing in juvenile and sex offense.

To improve fact-checking capability, the human services department,

police and county attorney’s office have been sending their employees to a

special training for interviewing children.