WALKER -- Cass County spent nearly $2.6 million in 2002 to place children outside their own homes and another $3.2 million in 2003, with most of the funds coming from local property taxes.
Children are put in out-of-home placement for a variety of reasons, including if they are in imminent danger of abuse, have committed offenses or could pose a threat to their community.
In November, Cass County officials reported 90 percent of those children are Indian.
Tuesday, Cass County commissioners were among 125 people who attended a seminar designed to help both Cass County and Leech Lake Reservation try to address the problem and find possible solutions.
Esther Wattenberg, University of Minnesota, chose this county and reservation to conduct her study of out-of-home child placements largely because the two historically have worked together on human services issues.
She hopes the results will serve as a guide for the rest of the state on ways to leave more children in their natural homes.
The goal is to diminish the number of children living without their own parents, Wattenberg said.
She said eight counties overlapping Indian reservations in Minnesota ranked highest for at-risk factors in children. Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, White Earth and Red Lake reservations ranked highest, Wattenberg said.
She said factors that contributed to the high ranking included more children living in poverty, maltreatment, higher infant mortality and teen mother birth rates, lower school attendance and more family alcohol abuse.
Joan Helms, Cass County children's services supervisor, said Cass County, working with Leech Lake Reservation, has tried the last two years to find more permanent homes for children who did have to be removed from their natural home.
She noted the county's multi-departmental screening team has made progress toward keeping more children in their own homes.
Cass County Administrator Robert Yochum said Cass County believes federal laws requiring child protection and directing Indian child welfare programs should mean the federal government also has a responsibility to help fund carrying out these laws.
He called on the county, state and reservation to work together to seek federal funding to match mandates.
Rose Robinson, who has worked in Hennepin County and is new to her Leech Lake job as federal Indian Child Welfare Act coordinator, said the reservation plans to develop a commission to look at out-of-home placement policies and procedures.
"It realty takes a team approach," she said.
Shana Krantz, Cass County/Leech Lake Children's Imitative, reported her agency coordinates day treatment programs for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. Youth and family service workers and mental health professionals are provided to Cass County schools.
One participant during a comment session noted, a survey of children at Cass Lake showed children there believe having one caring adult in their life makes more difference than anything else.
Wattenberg will sponsor another meeting in April to report more findings and make more suggestions for ways Cass County and Leech Lake Reservation might make improvements.
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