How are reports of abuse or neglect in the home handled?
When the local social service agency receives a report, the agency determines whether to conduct a family assessment or an investigation. If the report alleges substantial child endangerment, the agency will conduct an investigation. The agency may conduct a family assessment when a report does not allege substantial endangerment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10.
In conducting a family assessment, the local social service agency will determine whether the family needs services. In an investigation, the local social service agency will determine (1) whether there was maltreatment, and (2) whether protective services are needed. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10e. If an incident results in the death of a child, the local social service agency may rely on the law enforcement investigation to determine whether there was maltreatment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para (a).
“Maltreatment” means (1) physical abuse, (2) neglect, (3) sexual abuse, (4) mental injury, or (5) maltreatment of a child in a facility. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10e, para. (f). Maltreatment does not include reliance on spiritual means or prayer for treatment, but if lack of medical care may cause serious danger to a child’s health, the agency may ensure that the child receives necessary medical services. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10e, para. (h).
A determination that protective services are needed should result when a child protection worker concludes that (1) there is significant risk of maltreatment, and (2) persons responsible for the child’s care are not likely to protect the child from maltreatment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10e, para. (g). When necessary, the agency shall seek authority to remove the child from the home. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (a).
In cases alleging criminal sexual abuse, physical abuse, or criminal child neglect or endangerment, the local social services agency and local law enforcement must coordinate efforts to avoid duplicate fact-finding and multiple interviews. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (a). The social service or law enforcement agency may interview the alleged victim and other children (1) without parental consent, and (2) outside the parent or alleged offender’s presence. For family assessments, it is the preferred practice to request parental permission to interview the child unless this would compromise the safety assessment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (c).
How are reports of abuse or neglect in specified out-of-home settings handled?
The local social services agency must conduct these investigations in child foster care settings, family child care, legally unlicensed child care, and certain juvenile correctional facilities. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3c, cl. (1). The Department of Human Services investigates facilities licensed under chapters 245A and 245B, other than child foster care and family child care. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3c, cl. (2). The Department of Health investigates facilities it licenses, as well as unlicensed home health care settings. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3c, cl. (3). The Department of Education investigates maltreatment in schools. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 3b. These investigations must conclude with the same determinations regarding maltreatment or need for protective services that are required for abuse or neglect in the home.
How are reports of abuse or neglect in other settings handled?
In other settings, law enforcement will investigate, and the local social services agency will offer child protective services if appropriate. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10a.
What are the requirements for assessments and investigations?
The act provides various protocols for assessments and investigations. It lists several relevant kinds of information the local social services agency or agency responsible for assessing or investigating the report should collect, and authorizes the agency to collect additional information. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (h).
The agency is required to interview the alleged perpetrator and victim. For investigations only audio recordings of interviews are to be made whenever possible, except that in sexual abuse cases videotaping is required. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, paras. (i) and (j).
The act authorizes the agency to make an early determination of no maltreatment and close the case if there is no basis for further information. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10, para. (h).
Determinations whether there is maltreatment must be based on a preponderance of the evidence. The need for protective services must be based on the child protection worker’s conclusion that the child is at significant risk of maltreatment if protective intervention is not provided and that the child’s caregivers have not taken, or are not likely to take, actions to protect the child. Minn. Stat. 626.556, subd. 10e.
A person conducting an assessment should not have:
- a financial interest in a child abuse or neglect treatment provider, or
- a personal or family relationship with anyone under investigation.
If an independent assessor is not available, the services of someone who does not satisfy these requirements may be used. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 14.
Is there an appeal process?
There is no right to appeal in family assessment cases because there is no determination of maltreatment. An interested person acting on behalf of the child5 may ask for reconsideration of an investigating agency’s decision in an investigation. An individual or facility determined to have maltreated a child also may ask for reconsideration. A request must be submitted in writing within 15 days after receipt of the final determination regarding maltreatment. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (a).
If the request is denied or not acted on within 15 days after it is received, the person making the request may submit a written request for a hearing to the Department of Human Services. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (b). The department must hold a hearing and reach a decision within 90 days after a hearing is requested, with an extension for as many days as either party asks to have the hearing postponed. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (d).
For reports involving maltreatment of a child in a facility, an interested person acting on behalf of a child may request that the child maltreatment review panel review the investigating agency’s maltreatment determination. The review panel consists of the commissioners of health, human services, education, and corrections, and the ombudsman for mental health and developmental disabilities.
Within 30 days of the review, the panel must notify the investigating agency and interested persons of whether: (1) the panel agrees with the agency’s determination, or (2) the agency must reconsider its determination. If the panel determines that the investigating agency must reconsider its determination, the agency must reconsider and report back to the panel with its reconsidered determination within 30 days. Minn. Stat. §§ 256.022 and 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (b).
If the investigating agency changes its determination after reconsideration or review, it must notify the parties who got notice of the original determination. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (c).
What is the potential legal liability of those involved in child abuse cases?
If action is taken in good faith, there is immunity from civil or criminal liability for the following:
- a voluntary or mandated reporter
- anyone who participates in a case assessment
- a school or licensed facility and its employees when permitting interviews and helping with an assessment or investigation
- a person performing duties under the act or the supervisor of such a person Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 4.
What is the role of the multidisciplinary child protection team?
A county may form such a team, consisting of the director of the local social services agency or designee, county attorney or designee, county sheriff or designee, representatives of health, education, and mental health, or similar agencies, and parent groups. A committee of this team may provide case consultation to the local social services agency. Case consultation is a review process resulting in recommendations about services for an identified child and family. Minn. Stat. § 626.558.
This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Overview of the Maltreatment of Minors Act, written by legislative analyst Lynn Aves.
This is also part of a series of posts on Minnesota’s Maltreatment of Minors Act.
5 An “interested person acting on behalf of the child” means a parent or legal guardian; stepparent; grandparent; guardian ad litem; adult sibling, stepbrother, or stepsister; or adult aunt or uncle. The perpetrator of maltreatment cannot be an “interested person” under the act. Minn. Stat. § 626.556, subd. 10i, para. (g).