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Kandiyohi County child welfare services reviewed by the state

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WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County Family Services received a mostly positive report for its child welfare services this year.

The Kandiyohi County Board heard an update this week on a state review of the county's services.

Family Services supervisors Kathy Nelson and Corinne Torkelson discussed the results of the review, which is done periodically by the state.

The review surveyed parents, foster parents, law enforcement, court personnel, caseworkers and county administration. A change since the last review is an increased emphasis in involving fathers in child welfare cases.

The county was judged on 23 different factors having to do with services provided to children and families.

Kandiyohi County had strong ratings in several areas.

Nelson said the county was praised its work in keeping children in their own homes when possible and in keeping them safe in their homes.

The county was also praised for its attention to making sure children's educational needs are met.

"We do try and make sure we are having a positive impact on children and families when child welfare has to get involved," Nelson said.

The supervisors spent more time talking about areas where the state suggested improvement, and they explained some of the changes they will be making.

Torkelson said the county will be more diligent in entering data, so workers can better track the contacts the county has had with families and see what barriers are encountered in difficult cases.

Caseworkers will also renew their efforts in moving toward adoption placements for children in long-term foster care. "When kids are free, we have one of the fastest (adoption) rates in the state," Nelson said. However, legal appeals can slow that progress.

Other concerns to be addressed were staff turnover and involving fathers.

The staff recently had training in involving fathers, Torkelson said. Part of the training was about finding fathers and then finding ways for absent fathers to become involved with their children.

Nelson said she meets with her staff frequently to discuss their child welfare cases, but she will be making an effort to meet with each person each month to discuss issues they might have related to training needs or job stress.

County commissioners thanked the two for the report but criticized the state's "micromanagement" in the review.

"I think it's noble that you are self-critical," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen, but he added, "Don't be too hard on yourselves."

Madsen said the staff works every day to help troubled children.

Commissioner Richard Larson said constructive criticism is always good, but he thought some of the state's report was "too critical; I don't like the micromanagement aspect."

Torkelson said the intent of the review is to make sure counties are doing all they can for children and families. She did agree, though, that the process does add to worker stress.

"We are definitely about constant improvement," said Family Services Director Jay Kieft. "This is a process we benefit from."

In other business, the board approved a contract with Greater Minnesota Family Services to provide shelter care services for troubled youth. The county will pay about $50 a day more for some services, because the state has reduced its reimbursement rates, Nelson said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340