Cass County Board: State skips Cass child protection funding

WALKER--Reno Wells, Health, Human and Veterans Services director, and Michele Piprude, social services manager, reported to the county board that the county did not receive its second state payment to help the county fund increased child protecti...

WALKER-Reno Wells, Health, Human and Veterans Services director, and Michele Piprude, social services manager, reported to the county board that the county did not receive its second state payment to help the county fund increased child protection requirements.

New state guidelines took effect last year and are still evolving this year to shift the focus to child safety before family preservation. Some of these guidelines also require multi-department responses to child endangerment reports.

Not just law enforcement or just social services respond now, but rather combine their responses. Response must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Legislature allocated a fund from which counties would receive payments to increase staff in order to increase their response times and handle more child protection cases.

Cass received $108,000 last July, but expected another $27,000 by year end. The county did not receive the second payment.


Piprude and Wells each have sent several emails to the state human services department asking how the county failed to meet state expectations and how the county failed to qualify for the second payment.

So far, neither has received a response.

It took until September for Cass to find and hire its first additional qualified child protection social worker and until December to hire the second. Maybe this had an impact, Wells speculated, though existing staff worked overtime to try to respond promptly to cases as they arose.

Cass also involved the county attorney's office and Leech Lake Tribal social services to make this county's child protection program more comprehensive and integrated, Wells said.

"We just don't know why we failed to qualify for the second payment," he said, because the state has not responded to the inquiries. "We just don't know at this time what we have to fix."

"What we do know at this time is that the number of child protection cases is up," Piprude said.

What Wells does know is the state now requires counties to make timely face-to-face contact with a child when maltreatment is reported at least 90 percent of the time. Cass' response time for 2015 averaged 89.22 percent, according to the state. Statewide average was 77.25 percent.

The total number of visits caseworkers made monthly to children in out-of-home placement must be at least 90 percent of the total number of visits that would occur if every child were visited once per month. Cass County's rank for this was 88.8 percent in 2015, according to the state. Statewide average was 78.3 percent.


Child protection is only one of several reasons children may be placed outside their own homes.

Cass County for several years has tried to minimize the need for these placements, partly by having a screening team, which reviews each case of a child who has been placed outside their own home for 30 or more days. They then refer further for what they see as the most effective placement for that child.

Serving on the team are a county commissioner, the HHVS director and a representative from the sheriff's office, county attorney's office, probation, social services, Leech Lake band, a guardian ad litem and a mental health professional.

For several years, they were able to bring down Cass' child placement costs, while finding effective placements when children did need those. Child placement costs have now reversed and escalated in the immediate past sharply.

From 2013 through 2015, the screening team reviewed 132 children's cases. Of those children, 55 (42 percent) did not return to placement. The others did.

A majority of those screened were age 15 or younger rather than 16 or older. About half were boys and half were girls.

The largest numbers were white, followed by American Indian, then black. This follows the county's ethnicities, but the proportion of Indian children to white was higher than their population percentage.

Relative foster care has dropped significantly over the three-year period, while the use of residential and group home care has increased. Non-relative foster care has remained steady.


To recognized April as Child Abuse Awareness Month, Cass County will host a Pinwheels for Prevention event on the courthouse lawn in Walker at 2 p.m. April 19. Information will be available on healthy child development and community services for Cass County families.

The public is encouraged to attend to learn more about how to promote positive parenting and to bring happiness and hope to all children.

Cass County has hired Heidi Massie as the new Health, Human and Veterans Services fiscal supervisor to oversee the financial division of that department. She will replace Melanie Wolfe, who is retiring. Wolfe was hired by Cass County in 1983.

Cass commissioners voted Tuesday to increase fees the county charges for child and teen checkup screening from $337 to $419 and to raise HHVS early childhood screening daily charge from $413 to $420.

What To Read Next
Get Local