Bennett, task force issue child protection update

Published 10:32 am Monday, February 8, 2016

By William Morris

Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — A legislative task force on child protection, including area Rep. Peggy Bennett, has issued its findings a year after the state passed new laws to keep children safe.

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Bennett, R-Albert Lea, served as one of two vice-chairs on the Legislative Task Force on Child Protection, which issued its findings Thursday.

“What excites me about being on a team like this is the bipartisan work that happens,” Bennett said. “When we’re all working together to keep our kids safe, we can all agree on that, and it really doesn’t become such a partisan issue.”

The legislative task force was created in 2015 when the legislature passed several new laws to update the network of state, county and tribal agencies responsible for handling reports of child maltreatment. Those laws included a number of recommendations made by an earlier task force appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton, such as requiring social workers to consider past screened-out reports of child mistreatment when evaluating new reports about the same families.

“I certainly would rather err on the side of protecting the child,” Bennett said of those changes. “Hopefully we can get things streamlined so we aren’t unnecessarily bringing kids through the system too, but at the same time, we want to make sure kids are protected.”

The legislative task force on which Bennett served was charged with monitoring the implementation of that legislation, but also working with state and local agencies to pursue other recommendations and identify more areas where the child protection system can be improved, such as ensuring 24/7 staffing to respond to reports of abuse.

“Some counties don’t have that yet, and that’s one of the recommendations that needs to be done,”Bennett said. “Counties are trying hard, they’re working hard to get these things done, and it’s a tough thing. It’s something we added money for this last session, but money is only part of it. A lot of it is just finding enough child protection staff, especially in rural areas.”

One possibility for districts struggling with round-the-clock is to pool resources with other agencies, much like Steele, Waseca and Dodge counties combined to form Minnesota Prairie County Alliance in 2015.

“Steele County has a really neat system, how they work with different counties around them. I was impressed with that,” Bennett said. “That’s some ways maybe that some of these rural counties that can’t get a 24/7 person, maybe if they work with other counties like Steele County does, that will help them too.”

Another area Bennett says deserves closer attention is the foster care system, which she said currently is hampered by a shortage of willing parents.

“Especially in rural areas, again, that’s a problem,” she said. “For example, [foster parents] talked about probably a big road block to people becoming foster parents is the issue of day care. … Right now, let’s say you had a 3-year-old that needs a family, you need a daycare for that 3-year-old, [and] there’s no daycare that can take them, you can’t even have another foster parent babysit for you right now. There’s things we can look at.”

The full legislative report runs more than 80 pages and details a variety of projects underway and yet to begin. The main takeaway, Bennett said, is that ongoing attention will be needed to ensure every Minnesota child is safe. Among the task force’s recommendations is that its current end date in 2016 be extended to allow for ongoing monitoring and study.

“I think [it’s important] for people to know it’s a process, it’s not going to happen at one time,” Bennettsaid. “It’s a slow process, [but] we want to make sure it happens though. We don’t want it to stop here.”