Why this is important
The effects of child abuse and neglect are often long-term and far-reaching. Child victims of maltreatment are at risk for poor health outcomes and negative behaviors as children and as adults. For example, research suggests that neglected and abused children are more likely to perform poorly in school, become involved in criminal activities, and fail to develop positive relationships with others.
About this measure
Child maltreatment is categorized as follows: physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. While mandated reporters (mostly professionals such as teachers or doctors who have contact with children) are required to report suspected maltreatment, anyone may report suspected child abuse to the County or local police department. County staff and police officers decide which reports meet criteria in child protection statutes and merit further investigation.
What the data show
Outcomes of Traditional Investigations Dakota County
Traditional investigations determined that the total number of maltreated children declined sharply between 2002 and 2012 (491 to 247, or -49.7%). Both categories of neglect and physical abuse declined sharply over the same period. Sexual abuse, the most infrequent form of abuse, increased 18% between 2002 and 2012. In 2011, for the first time in a decade, the number of sexual abuse cases surpassed the number of physical abuse cases and remained above in 2012.
In a non-traditional approach to responding to child maltreatment allegations, County social workers meet with all family members to assess child safety concerns and to identify family strengths and needs. This family assessment approach does not make a determination regarding maltreatment, but aims to support families and enable parents to raise their children in safe, healthy, and nurturing environments. Dakota County was a pilot site for this approach, and it is one to which parents must voluntarily agree.
Minnesota law allows different responses to reports of child abuse or maltreatment. More serious reports of abuse or neglect are investigated under a traditional model, often teamed with police. Less serious reports, including families with little or no history of child protection issues, may be assigned to the Family Assessment model. Family Assessment is voluntary and includes a comprehensive strengths-based approach to working with families. Social workers find the Family Assessment model successful in many cases – meaning children live in safe environments - because there is less assignment of blame, so parents are more likely to be cooperative and less likely to be defensive.
The state Department of Human Services website describes the Family Assessment approach this way:
“This holistic program ensures children's safety and family stability by building on families’ strengths and responding to individual needs. Both children and parents get the help they need without being labeled. Extensive research has found that children are safer and families are healthier when family support services are quickly made available and targeted to specific needs.”