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State Keeps Foster Care Investigations Secret: How Can Public Monitor System?

John Hult tries to write a detailed report on investigations of abuse in South Dakota's foster care system. Writing such a report is hard, Hult notes, because South Dakota keeps such investigations secret.

But it's children! you say. We can't subject those children or their families to public scrutiny and shame. It might deter people from coming forward with reports of neglect and abuse.

Funny: Minnesota doesn't have that problem:

In Minnesota, that information would be available. In 2001, the state opened all abuse and neglect hearings and records after a two-year pilot project. The response has been positive, said Judy Nord, a lawyer with that state's Judicial Branch.

"We still have arguments in Minnesota about whether a child should have been placed in one home or the other. That hasn't stopped," she said. "The difference is that now, if something happens, you can go back through and find out what happened throughout the process."

Before the pilot project, opponents argued that opening records would lead to disclosure of the names of the children and families involved, that people would be less willing to report abuse for fear of the spotlight, and that parents would contest the allegations and press for a trial instead of admitting them in public.

Those concerns were unfounded, Nord said.

"The hearings are open, the records are open, and we haven't seen any problems," she said. "We still have people reporting abuse, we still have as many admissions as we did before opening the hearings."

Now, Nord said, relatives, teachers and others close to a child have started appearing at the hearings to offer help [John Hult, "Secrecy Cloaks Foster Care Investigations by S.D. Social Services," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.05.04].

I suppose that saying we should learn from Minnesota's example is a sure way to get Pierre not to take the desired action.

Among the information Hult can find are the data on investigations and substantiated case of abuse and neglect in foster homes and other homes in South Dakota. The foster care numbers are small and thus statistically less reliable, but Hult's numbers show that the percentage of investigations revealing substantiated cases of abuse and neglect in foster homes over the last five fiscal years is about 7%, compared to 22% for other homes. From these numbers, one could draw a number of logical guesses:

  1. Foster homes are subject to more scrutiny and thus more reports of possible abuse, which subsequently turn out to be unsubstantiated.
  2. The state's vetting process for foster parents works, producing a subset of caregivers who commit less abuse than the general population of parents and guardians.
  3. Foster homes' substiantiation-to-investigation ratio is depressed by the fact that the state has an interest in protecting itself from liability that colors its initial investigations in a way that does not happen in investigations of non-foster homes.

As long as South Dakota keeps its investigations of foster homes secret, citizens will have a hard time determining which of those three interpretations is the most accurate.


  1. Tara Volesky 2014.05.05

    Check out the fb page "ANGELS NEED YOUR HELP" you might be interested in interviewing Doug and Candy Boes who where foster parents for 3 1/2 years and in the process of adopting the 3 children, they where abruptly taken away. They have been fighting to get their children back for months. The Governor knows and so does the DSS and CRST. This is a tragedy and child abuse in SD has risen 36% in the last 3 years. Their phone number is 605-295-2001. This needs to get out and addressed by the candidates too. Our elected officials know what's going on.

  2. Jenny 2014.05.05

    Foster care children in SD deserve much better, and it's just sickening to read about all this secrecy, and saying it's to protect the confidentiality of children. All this is rather similar to the Catholic church and all the secrets they hide, and the protection the priests get.

  3. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.05

    Wanna know why the State and Governor DD keep it secret? Here is partial of the article at this website.

    Ten years ago, this group was in financial trouble. For several years, tax records show, it was losing money. Then in 2002, a former banker named Dennis Daugaard joined the team. He became the group's chief operating officer. A year later, he was promoted to executive director. And things began to change.

    South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, seen here at a news conference in October, spent seven years in leadership positions at Children's Home Society before becoming the state's governor.

    Nati Harnik/AP
    The money the group was getting from the state doubled under his leadership. Children's Home grew financially to seven times its size. It added two new facilities.

    State records show it seized on a big opportunity. The state began outsourcing much of its work, such as training foster care parents and examining potential foster homes. Children's Home got almost every one of those contracts.

    The group paid Daugaard $115,000 a year. But that wasn't his only job. He was also the state's lieutenant governor — and a rising star in state politics.

    The seven years Daugaard spent at Children's Home — and his ability to turn the place around — were prominent features of his successful 2010 bid for governor.

    Competition-Free Contracts

    It could be that Children's Home was the best organization for the job, at the best price for all those contracts it got.

    But it would be difficult for tax payers to know. In just about every case, the group did not compete for the contracts or bid against any other organization. For almost seven years, until this year, Daugaard's colleagues in state government just chose the organization and sent it money — more than $50 million in all.

    "It's a massive conflict of interest," says Melanie Sloan, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, adding that any organization run by a state's top elected official would have undue power in that state.

    "When you're lieutenant governor, people are anxious to curry favor with you," she says.

    Daugaard declined NPR's repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, his office said Children's Home was the only viable organization that could have done the work, and that Daugaard never used his influence as lieutenant governor to secure contracts for the organization.

    Tribal leaders, though, say the unusual relationship provides a window into the role money and politics play in South Dakota's foster care system. They say the dominance of Children's Home in this area is but one example of the interests of the state trumping the interests of native children.

    "They make a living off of our children," says Juanita Sherick, the tribal social worker on South Dakota's Pine Ridge reservation.

    She says the state pushes aggressively in her cases to place kids in Children's Home who, she says, should be placed with their grandmothers, aunts and uncles — family members who are often desperate to take them in.

  4. Jerry 2014.05.05

    Great find Lanny, just one more example of corrupt republican politics in a state where they are the ruling party. You know there are some kickbacks with another 50 million floating around out there. Who got them besides the governor?

  5. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.05

    Thanks Jerry. I have a few more on this program, which is breaking the Federal ICWA passed in the 1970's authored by former Senator Abourezk. I plan to start using them for LTEs after the primary is over.

    I just had a LTE published yesterday in the Argus, and have another one to send hopefully before the Repbulican primary. I hope that some of you readers are going to send LTEs challenging Rounds assertion that the Affordable Care Act is going to take 700 plus billion from medicare. He is using that false claim to scare seniors into voting for him. I have sent an email to KDLT asking them when they are going to mandate that he takes that lie down. Please consider an LTE to get the truth out to the voting public. Thanks.

  6. Shirley Schwab 2014.05.05

    When John Hult of the SF Argus contacted me several weeks ago concerning the article he was working on involving Foster Care Investigations, I provided him several quotes including the following which he used in his May 4, 2014 article:

    "I believe that there are kids in foster care in Brown County right now who are not safe."

    That was not a subjective statement but a factual one.

    The Foster Home Abuse Investigations in SD grids that Mr. Hult posted in his article are simply not complete when referencing Aberdeen cases of reported abuse in foster care.

    Without mentioning confidential information including specific time periods and other related data, known child abuse referrals appear to be missing from those grids.

    The children I have fought hard to protect and advocate for over the past 20 years are not political. They are precious children whose lives have been turned upside down because the adults in their lives have failed to protect them. Unfortunately that sometimes involves adults who are paid to protect those most vulnerable children.

    Brown County has had three (3) sexual abuse in foster care cases/dispositions since 2008. And yet some children in Brown County foster care remain at risk. Something is terribly wrong with this analogy.

    Child Abuse at any level but particularly child abuse in State licensed foster care should not be a Republican or Democrat problem. Rather this remains a violation of human rights of children and the citizens of South Dakota would be well served by approaching this embarrassing nightmare as a bi-partisan responsibility. Anything less is simply not acceptable.

    Imagine if any of these children were our own blood. Would we or anyone that we know expect anything less?

    It is time to stop pointing fingers and it is time for action.

    Shirley Schwab
    Aberdeen, SD

  7. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.05.05

    MN is just beginning to deal with a problem in child abuse actions. Some counties filter out a high percentage of child abuse reports. "High" is over 50% in some counties. The county decides, on quite minimal info, that there is not enough probable cause to warrant a complete investigation.

    Of course, that problem has been identified and publicized because of the lack of secrecy.

    Lutheran Social Services of SD is completely authorized and properly permitted so that they can provide all levels of services required for child care, adoption, fostering, etc. Children's Home Society is a wonderful service in MN. Too bad the Republicans, and Daugaard in particular, have screwed up that good resource for SD.

  8. Doug Boes 2014.05.05

    This is the true story and these babies , our babies are in definite life threatening danger as you read this , yet our governer has been to busy for over six months to help them...

  9. Tara Volesky 2014.05.06

    I wish people would not make this into a political issue, or wait until after the primary???????? Seriously, winning an election is more important than saving our children. If you have any information get it to anybody that will listen, the media, governor, DSS would not listen to Doug Boes so he told is story on video. There are hundreds of our kids out there who are living a nightmare and some are more worried about a damn election. All candidates need to put this issue at the top of their platform. Shirley, thank you for exposing SD's dirty little secret.

  10. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.05.06

    I put it on here, Tara. This info has been in the public domain for years and what has happened with it? Don't be so sanctimonious and grandiose. There is plenty of corruption in this State and Nation, for that matter to talk about, but the newpapers will only let you publish one LTE per month. I submitted a LTE to the Watertown PO. They called me yesterday and wanted $100 to publish because it was political.

    I am after Rounds at this point. I would not vote for your other candidate in the primary for Governor, that is why I am waiting until after the primary to go after double D.

  11. Tara Volesky 2014.05.06

    Whatever Lanny, you can vote for whomever you want. She will be the candidate to bring this out without being politically correct. The Republican elites are out to destroy her like they did Shirley Schwab. Shirley Schwab has been trying for years to get these horrendous stories out. Sorry if I come across sanctimonious or grandiose, but I am very passionate about this and will go to any length to get this out in the public, including voting for a candidate in the primary. Daugaard must go. My vote goes to the Whistleblower!

  12. larry kurtz 2014.05.06

    South Dakota: Land of Infinite Hypocrisy.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.05.06

    (Tara, please clarify: one moment you ask folks not to make this political, but the next you say Daugaard must go. Which is it?)

  14. Tara Volesky 2014.05.06

    What I mean Cory is all candidates no matter what party should be talking about this. That's what I mean by non-political. And yes Daugaard must go because he is the problem and he knows what's going on with child abuse and EB-5. If that is political than yes make it a political issue without being partisan. I probably should have use the word non-partisan instead.

Comments are closed.