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Published December 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

Region’s child services reviewed

Case response time needs improvement
A recent review of social service cases involving children in southeast North Dakota identified several challenges, including case managers who were slow to initiate child protection assessments and didn’t try hard enough to involve the fathers.

A recent review of social service cases involving children in southeast North Dakota identified several challenges, including case managers who were slow to initiate child protection assessments and didn’t try hard enough to involve the fathers.

The case files were reviewed by the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ Children and Family Services Division to identify strengths and challenges in managing foster-home and in-home cases.

The southeast region review was Sept. 28-30 in Fargo. Similar reviews are being conducted in counties across the state.

Officials drew eight cases for review. Four foster cases were pulled from Cass County, Richland County, Traill County and the state Division of Juvenile Services. The four in-home cases were drawn from Cass, Ransom, Richland and Traill counties.

The review included interviews with the case manager, child, parents, foster parents and partner agency providers.

Division Director Tara Muhlhauser said the review found strengths and room for improvement.

The report cited two cases as having “areas needing improvement” because agencies were slow to launch investigations into reports of child mistreatment.

One of those cases, in Cass County, was rated as a “Category A” allegation – meaning the child was at high risk of sexual or physical abuse – but face-to-face contact with a social worker didn’t occur within 24 hours, as required by state guidelines.

The report states the county had an internal policy “contrary to state policy” and that the issue was addressed with on-site administration.

However, Chip Ammerman, director of Cass County Social Services, said the county has no such internal policy. Rather, the case supervisor rated the case as a less severe “Category C” case because the alleged offender wasn’t a parent of the child, he said.

“It was not that we disregarded a state policy,” he said. “They interpreted the case as such, and they followed through on the interpretation. They made contact with the child within 72 hours,” as required by state guidelines.

The other case, in Richland County, wasn’t assigned or assessed, and face-to-face contact didn’t begin for 23 days after the report was received, the CFS report stated.

Agencies that receive ratings where improvement is needed must submit a plan to CFS within 60 days explaining how they plan to address the issues. Once plans are approved, agencies have a year to roll out them out, Muhlhauser said.

“We do take it very seriously here,” she said of making timely face-to-face contact with children.

Another area cited in the report as needing improvement was a lack of effort to involve fathers in their children’s cases.

Three of the eight cases needed improvement in the area of “child and family involvement in case planning,” the report stated. In one case, “there were marginal efforts to engage the mother and little effort to engage the father.”

Muhlhauser said CFS has done extensive training with county agencies on how to find fathers – including using online search tools – and engage them, because the federal government requires the state to show it has tried to contact both parents unless there’s the potential for domestic violence.

Ammerman said there “has to be some level of common sense” in those efforts. Children deserve to have relationships with as many family members as possible, but sometimes it’s not prudent to introduce an absent parent into the life of a child in crisis, he said.

Also, some fathers have repeatedly told social workers to leave them alone. Still, staffers try their best to find fathers and paternal extended family, he said.

“I’m not saying that our agency is absolutely perfect and that in the future we don’t have to improve our service and continue to try to improve. But we do the best that we can with our resources,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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