2010 was 'tough year' for child protection in Kandiyohi County
WILLMAR -- Social workers say investigating reports of abuse to children are some of the most difficult cases to handle, especially when the victims are too young to talk about what happened to them and especially when children are nearly killed.
That's what made 2010 particularly challenging for Kandiyohi County Family Services, which saw a 10 percent increase in the number of child protection reports that warranted an assessment.
The 2010 annual report shows the county assessed 225 child protection reports -- an increase of 22 cases from 2009.
These aren't cases that were simply reported. These are reported cases that were initially screened and determined to require a full investigation.
Most disturbing was the increase in near fatality cases, said Corrine Torkelson, family services supervisor, during a report Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners while the board members convened as the family services committee.
Last year the county was involved in investigating three near fatality cases, she said, adding that during a 22-month period from March of 2009 to January of 2011, the county assessed five near fatalities and the death of one child.
All of the victims in these cases were infants.
"These are difficult cases to process given the level of injury and a victim who is not able to discuss or disclose what happened," Torkelson said in her report.
Complex cases of child abuse, including physical or sexual abuse, can be challenging to process because it is often medically difficult to narrow down the time frame of an incident. If the child had multiple caregivers during that period of time, it can be difficult to pinpoint who caused the injuries unless there is a confession.
Those gray areas can make it difficult to file charges in abuse cases, she said, explaining why the public may not hear about all of these serious incidents happening in the county.
"It is difficult to know how to proceed and how to best meet the needs of the child and the family if we do not know what happened and why it may have happened," she said.
Any substantial cases are investigated in concert with law enforcement.
According to the report there were 101 cases of physical abuse investigated in 2010, which is up from 65 the previous year, and 27 cases of sexual abuse investigated last year, up from 18 cases in 2009.
There were 135 cases of neglect, which was unchanged from last year, and seven cases of educational neglect, which was up from three cases in 2009.
There were an additional 168 cases reported that were not investigated.
Screening the reports to determine whether there's enough information to launch an investigation is "one of the hardest jobs I'm involved in," said Torkelson. "They're tough decisions to make."
The county also investigated several "significant" cases of abuse in child care facilities that resulted in the revocation of child care licenses for two facilities. A third revocation has been appealed, she said.
Torkelson said 2010 was a "tough year" for child protection, and she fears the worst may not be over.
"As families are struggling with finances, we predict to see a potential increase in our cases of neglect and physical abuse," according to Torkelson's report.
She said there are also indications that the use of methamphetamine by parents is also increasing, which is leading to more abuse of children and potential abuse as some people -- who lost their parental rights of their older children -- are now expecting another child.