Become informed during national child abuse prevention month

 Isanti County Family Services participated in “Wear Blue Day” April 11 to demonstrate their support for preventing child abuse nationwide.
Isanti County Family Services participated in “Wear Blue Day” April 11 to demonstrate their support for preventing child abuse nationwide.

Isanti County Family Services continues to see its number of child protection cases annually increase.

A proclamation by President Barack Obama designated April as “Child Abuse Prevention Month,” stating, “We all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover.”

Isanti County Family Services Director Penny Messer and Social Services Supervisor Ann Stackpool-Gunderson feel all community members play a vital role in protecting children in the community.

“The reasoning behind April as child abuse prevention month is really to have people be aware of it, recognize it and realize there may be simple things you can do to help,” Stackpool-Gunderson said. “Just simple things like a phone call, offering to help a parent in the grocery line, offering to watch a child for an evening. These are all simple things we can do. We also need to be aware and ask our children questions and make sure everything is going OK for them. We need to be knowledgeable about child abuse warning signs.”

Stackpool-Gunderson, who is supervisor of the child protection unit, explained when a phone call comes into the department or someone comes into the office, the department has 24 hours to screen the information and collect as much information as possible.

“Most of the time, when someone comes to us with a concern, it may not meet the criteria defined by state guidelines to elevate it to a more criminal nature,” Stackpool-Gunderson said. “However, we provide whatever support services we can, such as talking to the person who reported the incident, talking with the parents or legal guardians of the child to figure out what caused the issues – we work with the family to provide the support it needs.”

Stackpool-Gunderson said two types of cases can be considered when looking at child abuse. She explained the traditional case is when there is egregious harm, or sexual abuse, and maltreatment has occurred. This would involve law enforcement because there’s an endangerment issue, as well as interviews and a complete criminal investigation.

Most often; however, the case involves a family assessment that involves working with the parents and guardians to alleviate stressors that may be causing the issues to arise.

“We have seen our number of child protection cases slowly increasing every year,” Stackpool-Gunderson said. “I can’t say I’m too surprised by it. With more people out of work, we’ve seen an increase in the number of cases. We’ve also probably done a better job of being mandated reporters and letting people know it’s OK to report these types of issues.”

Stackpool-Gunderson said she sees many triggers causing abuse such as methamphetamine use, prescription drug abuse, chemical use, mental health issues and unemployment.

Mandated reporters who are obligated to report any concerns with abuse include school officials, child care and day care providers, foster parents, hospital and medical center staff. However, Stackpool-Gunderson said any person can call to report a concern with abuse, and by law, the person making the report remains confidential.

Messer explained Isanti County does have a formalized prevention program in place through the parent support outreach program through a contract with People Inc. To learn more about this program, contact Isanti County Family Services. Messer said those looking for supports could also contact public health, early childhood or mental health providers in the community to see if they have any support systems available.

Messer noted very rarely are children physically removed from their home.

“Our department is here to be a support to the family and to keep families together,” Messer said. “We want to provide the parents and guardians with tools so they can parent to their best of their ability.”

Stackpool-Gunderson said in 2013, 31 child protection persons were in foster care, and there are currently 222 cases open.

“We end up with a very small percentage of children ending up in foster care,” Messer said. Messer said when a temporary out-of-home placement may be needed, usually the children live with a relative until it’s safe for them to return home.

Stackpool-Gunderson said oftentimes parents may not realize the effects their chemical use may have on them as parents.

“When parents who were abusing chemicals become sober, it’s then that they realize just how much their chemical use effected their parenting abilities,” Stackpool-Gunderson said. “When they’re not using, they are really good parents and picking their kids up from school, playing with their kids, interacting with them and tending to their needs.”

Signs of possible abuse/neglect of children:

Are nervous around adults.

Are aggressive toward adults or other children.

Have difficulty staying awake or concentrating .

Have sudden changes in personality or activities.

Act out sexually or show interest in sex that is not age appropriate.

Have unexplained bruises or injuries.

Have low self-esteem.

Have poor hygiene.

Stackpool-Gunderson remind parents to call Family Services if they suspect something isn’t right.

“It is always better to call when in doubt,” Stackpool-Gunderson said. “Many people may not call because they believe the government should stay out of family’s lives.  It is true that having child protection involved in one’s family can be an intrusive experience. However, when the safety of a child is at stake, and the parents are struggling to maintain a home free of violence, chaos, chemical use or a harmful physical environment, child protection can offer services to assist the family.”

Isanti County Family Services is located in the Oakview Office Complex, 1700 East Rum River Drive S., Suite A, Cambridge, and can be reached at 763-689-1711.

2013 Isanti County Child Protection Statistics

1,265 Child Protection Intakes were received. 2012 was 1,218; an increase of 47.

177 Child Protection Assessments-investigations completed. 2012 was 148; an increase of 29.

13 child welfare assessments conducted.

5 minor parent assessments conducted.

23 Parent Support Outreach Program case management services were provided.

1182 individuals received services. Of those 585 were children and youth 0-18 years of age. 2012 was 904; an increase of 278, with 443 being children, which is an increase of 142.

Definitions of Child Abuse

Neglect: Failure on the part of a parent or person responsible for the child’s care to provide necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education for children ages 12 and under. Neglect is failure of a parent to protect the child from conditions that seriously endanger the child’s physical or mental health when reasonably able to do so.  Also, neglect includes failure by a parent to provide for appropriate supervision or child care arrangements considering the child’s age, mental ability, physical condition, and length of absence or environment.

Physical abuse: Any physical injury, mental injury or threatened injury caused by a parent or person responsible for the child’s care that cannot be explained and is not caused by accidental means. It also includes any deprivation procedures or regulated interventions that have not been authorized under the law for use in facilities serving persons with mental retardation or related conditions.

Threatened injury: A statement or overt act that represents a substantial risk of physical or sexual abuse or mental injury to the child. Threatened injury includes exposing a child to a person responsible for the child’s care who has: subjected a child to, or failed to protect a child from, an overt act or condition that constitutes egregious harm; been found to be palpably unfit; committed an act that resulted in an involuntary termination of parental rights; or committed an act that resulted in the involuntary transfer of permanent physical and legal custody of a child to a relative.

Mental injury: An injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of a child as evidenced by an observable or substantial impairment in the child’s ability to function within a normal range of performance and behavior, with due regard to the child’s culture. A mental health practitioner needs to assess this to rule out any other causes of the behaviors.

Sexual abuse: A person responsible for the care of the child, a person with a significant relationship to the child or a person in a position of authority who fondles, touches intimate parts of a child or has sexual intercourse with a child. The use of a child in prostitution or in the production of sexually explicit works or allows a child to engage in these activities also is considered sexual abuse.

— Provided by Ann Stackpool-Gunderson, Isanti County Family Services