Monday, 1 December 2014

Minnesota – failures to protect three-year old Eric Dean

The Star Tribune reports that on fifteen separate occasions, day-care workers made reports to authorities in the US state of Minnesota’s Pope County saying that they suspected that a three-year old boy, Eric Dean, was being physically abused.

Following some inquiries it was determined that no further action could be taken by the county’s child protection office, even though it appears that child protection workers believed Eric was being abused. The family’s denials and a lack of witnesses were subsequently cited as reasons for this lack of response.

Subsequently Eric died as a result of multiple non-accidental injuries.

In Minnesota, teachers and care providers must report suspected child maltreatment to the child protection office. If they fail to do so they commit a criminal offence.  It seems that Minnesota law also prescribes when child protection workers should respond. In Eric’s case the child protection authorities have defended themselves by saying that the allegations didn’t meet the response criteria set out in state law.

It seems to me that using legislation to try to determine when maltreatment reports are made and when authorities should respond has the dysfunctional consequence of shifting thinking from ‘what are the risks?’ to ‘what are the rules?’ Rather than worrying about what the law says, I would prefer to see child protection practitioners worrying about what is happening to the child and what s/he is experiencing and feeling.

That’s why I have the strongest reservations about the ‘Daniel’s Law” campaign to introduce mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect in England.