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County Social Services see child protection caseload increase

Fri, Apr 25th, 2003
Posted in Features

"We would like to see a month where there is no hitting, no drug abuse, no sexual abuse, no emotional neglect, children being bathed when they smell, and children being properly fed," stated Wendy Ebner, Social Service Supervisor, as she recapped the springs caseload to County Commissioners on Tuesday. The Child Protection Team has seen a staggering increase in their workloads this season as methamphetamine and cocaine plays havoc with parents. The rising addiction has challenged the team as they work to secure safe environments for children.A quick run down of data shows a steady increase of 200 cases between April 2000-01; 242 between 2001-02; and 317 from last April to now."Responding in a timely manner is important," said team member Vicki Giese. Incoming calls, which normally run about 15 a month, have now soared to 30. According to Giese, the immediate priority is getting the children out of danger. That can be done relatively quickly. The avalanche of paperwork, legal time lines and court time that follows each case is not so easily waded through.Assistant County Attorney Todd Pierce noted that he has seen instances where other counties Child Services and the Attorneys Office havent been able to work together effectively. The outcome hasnt been nearly as positive as Fillmore Countys team demonstrates. He describes their skills as having "common sense and prudence".Giese said parents often ask, "Are you going to take my kids?" when a family situation becomes out of control. She says that the team isnt there to raise someone elses children. They are there to identify the problems and hopefully, find a workable solution so the family can heal and function once again. Giese also noted that there are a lot of repeat cases in their work load. Ebner has worked with Child Protection for 15 years. Giese has been with Social Services for many years, but moved to Child Protection five years ago. Kari Aske and Tammi Stoos joined the team in 2001. The group works together to keep each others spirits up through the many difficult situations. Post-traumatic counseling has just recently been offered to child protection workers. Stoos noted the team has to be creative. When the same families repeat, you know youve got to try something different. She says, experimenting is an important tool of the team.Citizen Input"You do an excellent job," said Mat Opat, retired Fillmore County Attorney. Opat believes the approved improvements to the courthouse are extremely beneficial and the timing of the project is correct. He acknowledged the large amount of time the board has put into the project in rendering their decision. Opat, as a member of the legal system, said he was excited about the changes that would take place in the courtroom. The number of cases has grown dramatically since the courthouse was built many years ago. Updating the courtrooms structure will not only speed up the workload, but also create a safer environment for its participants. As a former employee, Opat feels the countys greatest asset is its employees. Its important that their welfare is being addressed through the courthouse renovation.And finally, Opat said, "I dont want you to take a breather, keep on going", encouraged the member of the Corrections Task Force. Opat feels there is a need for the board to move foreward on the countys jail system, which is over crowded. A minimum-security jail is one solution to the problem. The board was very appreciative of Opats input, encouragement and the manner in which it was delivered.Public Health to sponsor Youth Conference Nursing Director Sharon Serfling requested approval to sponsor a second Youth Conference at Eagle Bluff. The conference would focus on educating students on health topics and practices in order that they may make good choices. Serfling said tht 610 7th and 8th graders from Kingsland, Rushford-Peterson, Whipple Heights Alternative, Fillmore Central, Lanesboro, Mabel-Canton, and St Johns Lutheran participated in the one day February event. Brenda Pohlman, Public Health, ran the program. This years conference, which cost $7,515 and was paid by grant monies. Schools participated free of charge. Carryover money can be used to conduct a second conference next year. Serfling said the response from the event was excellent. The board gave approval to prepay Eagle Bluff and host a second conference in 2004.Cell phone usage to be watched closelyThere was a lengthy discussion on the use or misuse of cell phones within the departments. The county currently pays out approximately $1,000 a month. Public Health is requesting two additional phones to be paid through Bio-terrorism grant money. Sanitation is also requesting a phone. It had been the boards original intention that the phones were for emergency use only and are concerned that some individuals have moved away from this policy. Chairman Mark Prestby was against adding any more phones. Commissioner Randy Dahl didnt want the phones being used as a tool for scheduling daily events, that are not emergencies. The county reviewed a different contract that would cost the county $0.13 per anytime minutes. The county has been averaging 1,300 minutes per month. Under this contract, the monthly cost would go from roughly $1,000 to approximately $393 including a $7 per month fee per phone. The board would like to see an itemized monthly bill from each department and make a comparison in the future to see that the savings isnt lost on additional usage. The board approved the contract change without adding a phone to Sanitation and stressed that it was up to the department heads to monitor phone usage. Other businessNorma Craig, Zoning Administrator, presented a refund request for Greg Woolum of Sumner Township for the sum of $408.15. Woolum had wished to obtain a building permit for a new home. However, Sumner has a Interim Ordinance now in place, which requires 80 acres to build a home on. He will not be able to build the home and wants the money refunded. The board questioned whether they were obligated to refund the money as Woolum had petitioned for the permit before the ordinance had passed. They were advised that since Woolums petition application started prior to the ordinance, the county wasnt obligated. It was also noted that it states on the application there are no refunds.

Juliann Mueller can be reached at

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