Minnesota lawmakers: 70,000 reports of child abuse in 2014

Lawmakers in St. Paul are considering initiatives to better protect children who are either neglected or abused. It's driving a huge discussion at the Capitol to change laws, and also give families, social workers, and foster parents more support.

This is largely inspired by a single case back in 2013 when a young boy named Eric Dean died at the hands of his step-mother. The abuse was reported to Pope County 15 times, yet his case still fell through the cracks. To this day, it's still a case that haunts lawmakers.

According to the legislative child protection task force that met Thursday, 604 children were taken out of their homes by the courts in 2014, and there were 70,000 reports. 77 percent of the abuse claims were directed against a biological parent.

"It tells me that we don't spend enough time really focusing on people's basic needs,” Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said.

Among the possible bills is one that creates an ombudsman office to advocate for families and children within state government -- "And so it wouldn't be just for child protection, it would for foster homes, for childcare centers that might not be protecting children right,” Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Other possible reforms include changing regulations that apply to foster families.

"We have to really pay attention to how we help these foster parents continue to do a better job of serving these children because a lot of them are stuck with regulations and reforms that really make it hard for them to keep these children in their homes,” Kresha said.

This all comes in an attempt to not repeat the mistakes that preceded Dean's death -- "It was so horrific. And we don't need another need another horrific example like that in this state to jump start the issues that need to be taken care of,” Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said.

There are few issues that unite lawmakers like this one does. Last year, they passed legislation that requires abuse cases to also be reported to police. But one of the remaining problems the state still faces is a shortage of social workers in out-state Minnesota.