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House passes bill that would help improve child abuse screenings

Rep. Ron Kresha presents HF8 on the House Floor Feb. 23. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Mandatory reporters and others who suspect a child is being abused or neglected would have their report documented and stay in the subject’s file for future consideration by social workers or law enforcement under a bill passed 130-0 by the House Monday.

HF8, sponsored by Rep. Ron Kresha (R-Little Falls), now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Kathy Sheran (DFL-Mankato) is the sponsor.

Following the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean, who was repeatedly abused by his step-mother and consequently died from his injuries in February 2013, the Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children was formed to review child protection laws and to recommend changes.

What the House passed were two of the task force’s preliminary recommendations. The first would be a public policy shift in the way counties and tribal governments look at suspected abuse cases. They are the ones who screen initial reports. Rather than focusing on the needs of the family, screeners would look at the health and safety of the child above all else.

House floor session

HF8, I’ll be honest with you, doesn’t go far enough, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a continuation of many, many efforts to reach the children and improve our child protection system,” Kresha said. 

If the agency determines not to investigate a case further, the report is considered “screened out” of the social services system and cannot be used for any reason other than offering social services. Under HF8, every report, whether screened in or out by an agency, would remain part of the subject’s file.

Supporters believe previous screened-out reports are valuable bits of information that may demonstrate a pattern of abuse over several years.

“There were a number of cases reported. None of them reached the level that would cause further examination so that’s why this bill is so important,” said Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), who represents the community where the child died.

In total, 25,297 children were reportedly abused or neglected in 2013 and 17 children died as a result, Kresha said.

Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls) served with Kresha on the task force and said there was no opposition to the bill’s proposals by task force members.

“There’s an awful long ways to go but this is an important first step,” Mullery said.

Final recommendations are expected from the task force next month, but HF8 “is necessary to guide screening decisions, and should not be delayed while more complicated systemic changes move through the legislative process,” the task force stated in its preliminary report.

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