Leaders: Mower County in good position for child protection changes; County could get $185K in each of next two years

Published 10:26 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mower County leaders say they’re ahead of the curve when it comes to recently-approved child protection standards, but they’re still preparing to adapt to the changes.

Mower County employees are working to be ready for when a series of reforms for child protection and $52 million to hire new staff and expand services take effect after Gov. Mark Dayton approved them last month.

Mower County could receive $185,000 — enough for about two and half employees — each of the next two years to dedicate to child protection after the changes proposed by a task force passed the legislature.

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At Tuesday’s county board meeting, county officials said the changes are good but will make for more work.

“I think it makes sense,” Health and Human Services Director Lisa Kocer said. “It’s a good thing, but it’s increased the volume.”



The changes stem from a Dayton-appointed task force that made 100 recommendations about ways to change and improve child protection after the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean, which happened after the warnings of day care workers went unheeded. Sheriff Terese Amazi served on the task force and said Mower is ahead of the curve.

“Because we’ve been doing it already … we’re not going to change much how we do things,” Amazi said. “We’re not in the spot that some other agencies are in.”

One change is that law enforcement will be notified when reports come in, and it ensures that county agencies act jointly as a team.

Amazi, Kocer and County Attorney Kristen Nelsen agreed Mower County has been doing things correctly, with Health and Human Services, law enforcement and the county attorney’s office all working together.

The county attorney’s office will also be an integral part of the process — as it has been in Mower — and it might increase the office’s workload.

“We’re required to be involved in every aspect of decision making now,” Nelsen said.

Kocer, Amazi and Nelsen agreed their offices already have a positive working relationship. Kocer and Amazi said their offices are already doing many of the things outlined in the bill, but this will provide more resources and could allow for more face-to-face visits.

One key change is that child protection and other agencies will be able to consider past claims and files when working with children and families, which they weren’t able to do before.

Kocer said county employees will have to discuss how to best use the $185,000 available to Mower County. If Mower doesn’t use the money, it would be distributed to other participating counties.

However, County Coordinator Craig Oscarson and commissioners voiced concern about the stability of the state funding. The funding would need to be renewed after two years, and Oscarson pointed out similar state-funded programs have lapsed in the past or have not seen funding increases.

Mower County’s Statewide Health Improvement Program lapsed after the state cut funding before it returned a few years later, and the county worries that could happen again with this funding.

Amazi agreed that there’s cause for doubt, but she was hopeful that the state will continue to provide funding for the issue.