The number of Minnesota children suspected of being abused or neglected grew significantly in 2016. More than 39,500 children were the subject of reports, a 25 percent increase from 2015. Of those children, 16,400 were part of child maltreatment investigations, a 43 percent increase over the previous year.
Minnesota has adopted a range of strategies to address this issue. Gov. Mark Dayton recently proposed additional investments to strengthen safety and stability for children, including changes that will improve policies and practices at the local level.
Preventing child abuse before it occurs must be an important part of our approach, said Jim Koppel, an assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS). During April, Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month, Koppel encourages all Minnesotans to play a part in supporting children and their parents.
“While it is our job in counties, tribes, and at the MDHS to protect children from abuse and neglect, all of us — every caring adult in Minnesota — has a role to play to prevent harm from ever happening,” Koppel said.
Abuse and neglect can occur in all types of families, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or educational achievements. Families who are struggling, including those stressed by the difficulties of poverty, unemployment, chemical dependency, and who have little access to social supports are particularly at risk. A number of factors contribute to the recent spike in child protection cases, including increased awareness about child protection issues, changes in how reports are reviewed, and a growing opioid crisis.
State and local government, community organizations and others have formal resources to help families reduce the sources of stress, including economic supports, nutritional assistance, parenting classes, and chemical and mental health treatment.
“While these resources are helpful, we can be a second pair of eyes, noticing when stressed-out parents have reached their limit, and offer them a break,” Koppel said. “We can be a second pair of ears when we hear angry voices and loud noises in homes where young children are present, and try to help diffuse these situations before they become crises.”
To help families who are struggling to keep children safe, Minnesotans can:
- Listen to parents to understand what they are thinking and ask them to share some of the joys and challenges of parenting.
- Build friendships with parents — offer to go with them to the library, the park and community events so they don’t feel isolated.
- Encourage parents to participate in classes to learn about child development.
- Set an example by practicing nurturing and patience with children.
- Offer parents a break by watching their children or encouraging them to rely on their family members and friends who can help.
- Encourage parents to seek outlets — reading, exercising and spending time with friends — to relieve their stress.
“The results of doing nothing can be costly, leading to depression, substance abuse, learning difficulties, early pregnancies, unhealthy relationships, and difficulty in school for children,” Koppel said. “We must focus on helping and nurturing children, and supporting their parents.”
For more information on preventing child abuse and neglect, or to report suspected abuse or neglect, visit the department’s webpage at https://mn.gov/dhs.
Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Human Services