Minnesota Finally Stops Hiding Child Abuse Allegations from Investigators

Seven Minnesota children have been murdered since Eric Dean's death.

Seven Minnesota children have been murdered since Eric Dean's death.

Unbelievably, Minnesota's social workers aren't allowed to look at the full history of abuse in a child's life when making decisions about their immediate safety, but that's going to change very soon.

The state Senate unanimously voted Thursday to change a law that blacks out certain child abuse records. It used to be that if anyone suspected a kid was being beaten or neglected, but that claim wasn't fully investigated, it would get screened from the child's permanent file. Now, social workers would be able to study every 911 call made on a child's behalf to connect the dots.

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Gov. Mark Dayton also wants to invest another $50 million in expanding child protection beyond this first attempt at reforming a dilapidated system.

The bill was the brainchild of a task force created to review Minnesota's child protection system following the highly publicized death of 4-year-old Eric Dean from Starbuck. A special report by the Star Tribune discovered that child protection failed to act on more than a dozen reports alleging his stepmother made a sport of breaking his bones in the months before his death.

For Tiffani Forslund of Kids at Risk Action, the bill is exactly what lawmakers are calling it: a first step. "Child protection is such a huge machine, it's hard to figure out where to attack," she says. "If you're protecting children, they shouldn't be dying."

Some parents will repeatedly accuse their spouses of child abuse only to be ignored, she says. Especially in family court, when divorcing spouses accuse each other of neglecting the kids, child protection is less likely to get involved.

"I don't know what the science is to them picking and choosing, because that's a problem," Forslund says. "They're letting Eric Dean die while they're taking another case that might not be so extreme and spending so much time on it. There's no uniform process."

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