Polk County Social Services - Coffee sleeves spotlight children in crisis
Each year in April, Child Abuse Prevention Month is observed nationwide. Polk County officials are using this time to bring light to the fact child abuse is a problem nationwide, including in Polk County, to bring awareness to the issue and show how the community can support the children of Polk County.
During the month of April, if you purchase a coffee at Heroes Rise Coffee, Wonderful Life Foods or Caribou in Crookston, you may receive a special coffee sleeves dedicated to bringing awareness to child maltreatment. The coffee sleeves are also available at Bully Brew in East Grand Forks and Caribou in Fosston.
This year, the Victim’s Services program through the Polk County attorney’s office has teamed up with the Polk County Social Services Child Protection Unit to come together to bring awareness to this topic. Polk County Child Protection Unit (CPS) is responsible for receiving reports of child maltreatment and “screening” these reports to see if they meet the state requirements for intervention with a family. It is their job to work with the child, parents and family to establish a safe environment for the children. When parents need more serious help, CPS must request help from the court system to ensure the safety of the children. These are called CHIPS petitions (Child in Need of Protection or Services.) Victim’s Services serves victims of crimes where the offender is facing criminal prosecution. They help the victims through the difficult process of the criminal justice system every step of the way. Often, Victim’s Services and CPS work together to help each other do their job as efficiently as possible.
So how prevalent is child maltreatment in Polk County? From March 2019 to February 2020, Polk County CPS received 762 reports of child maltreatment. The pandemic has drastically impacted how many reports have been received, the response by the team and how things are reported. From March 2020 to February 2021, CPS received 542 reports of child maltreatment. For a county with the population of 31,529, that is a lot of children who someone in the community is worried needs help.
The pandemic has certainly affected everyone’s daily life in a drastic way. The pandemic has also impacted child maltreatment. Children who experience abuse or neglect were also seriously impacted by the pandemic because they did not have their consistent, stable support to go to: school. They were having class and other services, such as therapy, over videoconferencing. This is where Polk County saw the biggest reduction in numbers. The difficult truth of the pandemic is also that the cases the county did receive that met the state’s criteria for intervention were more intense and the family’s needs were more extreme. Victim’s Services and CPS saw a higher level of drug-related activity with the children involved because they were home more. More babies were born with drugs in their systems. And the county also saw more intense levels of emotional concerns for both parents and children. Polk County’s CPS team continued to serve these children in their homes, face to face, whenever possible throughout the pandemic.
If you know or have reason to believe a child may be a victim of maltreatment, regardless of where the child lives, you can make a report to your local child welfare agency. They will collect all the information possible, and the CPS screening team will meet to see if this report meets the state maltreatment criteria. All reports of child maltreatment are cross reported to law enforcement to review for a potential crime. The concern you take the time to report could result in the family being assessed for safety, it could be added to a currently open case in either CPS or another social service program, it could be referred to other children’s services and sometimes when cases do not meet CPS criteria, CPS workers can assist law enforcement in interviewing a child for them. When law enforcement checks into a situation and the child’s safety is seriously at risk, they place custody of the child with Social Services until the family can show their ability to be safe. Only law enforcement or judge’s orders can legally remove custody of a child and, by state law, it is the county’s responsibility to work with the family to reunite as quickly and safely as possible. Removing custody only happens in the most serious and egregious cases. CPS also works with families to see how their extended family can help through informal safety plans to even emergency licensing their home as a foster home.
A common misconception about child maltreatment reports is how CPS responds to reports. To put it as simply as possible, each child maltreatment report must be reviewed by a team trained in the state’s criteria for intervention within certain timeframes. For a report to be accepted for “assessment “or “investigation” the report must meet the threshold laid out by the State of Minnesota in statute 626.556. In order for CPS to legally and ethically intervene with a family, the report has to meet this criteria. The CPS worker assigned also consults with the CPS team regularly to ensure the needs of the child are being met in the most family-friendly way while still meeting the legal obligation of state laws. When there’s a crime alleged, CPS teams up with the law enforcement agency where the incident is said to have occurred. CPS also teams up with law enforcement to ensure their safety during high-crisis moments. CPS works with the family to address the safety concern, and other stressors that cause a child safety risk, by creating plans that include CPS’s concern, how CPS is going to ensure child safety in the future and what services can help attain stability.
You can help out by learning signs of child maltreatment and reporting. Some things to look for are:
⁃ Bruising where bruises are not typically seen with no reasonable explanation
⁃ The child’s hygiene is so poor it could impact their functioning
⁃ The parent’s behavior is irrational or unpredictable
⁃ Sudden changes in the child’s behavior
⁃ It appears the child is always unsupervised
How to make a report in Polk County: call 281-3127 and ask for intake or call the direct number: 218 470-8483. Reporting a concern timely is important to help the team meet the child’s needs. CPS recommends reporting within 24 hours. If it’s an emergency, you can always call law enforcement to report your concern.
If you would like to do more, such as becoming a respite or foster provider or even working on the CPS team, contact Polk County Social Services. From CPS: “It takes a village to raise a child and you could be the missing piece for a child in need. Thank you.”