Hennepin Co. seeks to improve child protection service

Hennepin County wants to fundamentally transform the way it protects at-risk youth with a new initiative that follows several high-profile cases of maltreatment and deaths across the state.

The move put child protective services into the spotlight, with officials making their pitch to Hennepin County board members on Thursday.

“Imagine having the responsibility of keeping 30 children safe in eight different families,” said Janine Moore with Hennepin County child protection. “That is a challenge in and of itself."

Officials argued that it's time to transform the system – rather than waiting until a child is abused or a family is in crisis, social services should identify those at risk beforehand and get them the assistance they need.

“Despite the fact that we may be removing children for their own safety, it creates a traumatic event in their lives,” Moore said. “We would like to see and be able to provide better preventative services, reducing the need for out of home placements for those children."

The new formula comes from a 13-month study following high-profile maltreatment cases across Minnesota, including some right here in Hennepin County.

In 2014, Fox 9 reported on the death of Kendrea Johnson, the 6-year-old girl found hanging from a jump rope in a Brooklyn Park foster home.

Her family subsequently sued the county.

Administrators argue that they need more resources to handle an explosion in investigations and cases involving at-risk youth and struggling families.

They report that some social workers are currently handling upwards of 20 cases at a time, about double the recommended amount.

Child protection officials are asking for $26 million over the next three or more years to hire more staff, institute a 24-7 response system and to change the way the county protects its kids.

“We have a lot to be proud of as a team,” said Jennifer Decubellis, assistant county administrator. “We have a lot to be proud of as a county and a community. We are pushing the line, we are making a difference. But, it is worth noting that we have significantly more work to accomplish.”