But imagine: you suspect a child may be abused or neglected. You do the right thing - you make a call and report.
What happens next? In Minnesota, it's most likely that a ground level social worker will decide, based on minimal information, it's not worth looking into. End of story. Case closed. Out of 68,000 reports of suspected child abuse in 2013, less than 22,000 were ever investigated.
Do we really think that there were 46,000 reports that didn't deserve further investigation?
What happens to these children? In most cases - we don't know. They're hopefully, alive, but are they thriving?
Consider the story of one Minnesota boy:
- in 2007 a report of suspected child neglect was made in regard to a little boy (approx age 2-3). No neglect was suspected by the case worker so there was never an assessment of the child and his family.
- in 2011, someone reported the same boy (now 6-7 years old) walking alone down a highway - he said he was hungry going to get food at gas station seven miles from his home. The police officer that took the call said the boy did not seem malnourished and did not report the incident.
- According to the Star Tribune, "In October 2012, Mona Hauer (the mother) brought the boy to the hospital after finding blood on his shirt. She told doctors that the boy had been regurgitating his food since December 2011. He stayed in the hospital for about a month as doctors worked to bring him up to a normal weight and treated him for brain atrophy and delayed bone growth from malnutrition. The boy told his doctors that he been eating his regurgitated food because he did not know when he would eat again."
He weighed 35 pounds.
As it turned out, the boy had been locked in the basement, starved, and had been eating his own regurgitated food. He was also forced to sleep in a plastic container because he wet the bed.
Back in 2007, someone KNEW something wasn't right. Was the boy ever interviewed - no. Was there ever any sort of check up on the family - no.
It will be no shock to some of you reading this, that they tell you to report any suspected abuse, but that's not what they really want. They want rock solid evidence of abuse - and even then, a person in perfect common-sense could report what they know is a dangerous situation, and still then - it would not meet the requirements for investigation. For example:
A father threatens his son and shoots the family dog in front of him. Investigate?
A father chokes and punches a mother as the kids play video games. Investigate?
A mother drinks too much while caring for her child. Investigate?
About 50% of child protective services in MN would not.
Why? To keep case loads under control. It also appears that if you're not mandated by the state to report, they value your call less and are even less likely to investigate.
"Do the right thing" they say. "Save a child - report abuse." It sounds good - especially when most abuse goes unreported - but sadly, it's not enough.
If they're trying to save their social workers from being overloaded - why not push for more funding? Why not raise awareness that there are so many reports of abuse that they cannot effectively handle? But the biggest question on our minds: Why let children suffer?
This is not going to be resolved overnight. Or, most likely, even in the next 10 years or beyond that. So what do we do?
- Keep reporting - keep those numbers up. The last thing we want is less reports because people feel like it won't go anywhere. That could just lead to the state supporting the idea that less funding is needed.
- Advocate. Advocate. Advocate. In our community for more awareness of child abuse, support for new and single parents, families facing financial struggle, and programs for children in need.
- Take Action, Know Our Neighbors - whether we like them or not - say hello. Introduce ourselves. The more we know about the families around us, the more likely we will be to identify a situation where a child may be at risk - and in turn, we may also be able to offer ourselves as a source of support for a family that truly needs and wants help. Same goes for family! Just because we do not live in the same towns does not mean we cannot pick up a phone and stay in touch. In most cases, it's often not a surprise that a child was being abused in their own home - but truthfully, people don't want to be involved.
So where do we stand? For "ignorance is bliss" or for a child's right to a safe, nurturing childhood?
Some may read that and think "ugh, you mean I have to be involved in the solution?" And the answer is, yes. Children are not going to stop being abused because "the law says so" or by leaving it up to a social worker who may make as little as $26,000/year. It's going to stop when we make it stop - in our own states, our own towns, on our own streets. (Here are more ideas.)
If we're not part of the solution, we are (whether we accept it or not) part of the problem.
We'll leave you with two quotes.