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Betsy Simon, Forum News Service, Published February 19 2013

ND's Dunn County sees spike in child abuse

Dunn County has experienced a spike in reports of child abuse during the last year.

“What’s disturbing is the number of child abuse and neglect cases for year 2012, which topped out at 47,” said Tom Picken, director of Dunn County Social Service. “That is roughly twice as many as we’ve ever had in our highest years, and the type of cases we’re getting are significant. It’s a disturbing trend.”

The child abuse cases that are coming through his office are more significant and, therefore, require more legal involvement, Picken said earlier this month at a county commission meeting.

“We’re really getting hit with this stuff and we’ve kept (Dunn County State’s Attorney) Ross Sundeen busy,” Picken said.

For example, he said his office had to get involved in a situation where a child was born addicted to methamphetamine and the state had to take custody of the child, while the child’s parents were arrested.

“These are difficult cases,” Picken said, adding that the outcome for the child involved is unknown.

Commissioner Daryl Dukart has sat in on hearings at the state level, where he has heard about the complexity of social service cases involving more than just North Dakota.

“Some of the questions I’ve heard state’s attorneys ask at the committee hearings are about the complexity of two states trying to work together,” he said. “A lot of these cases are remedies from another state and the issue with the state’s attorneys is their inability to share information.”

Picken said an interstate compact is used for placing children outside of North Dakota when necessary.

“It’s an agreement between the two states involved, so there can be a flow of information, both legal and otherwise, so that we can do the process of placing a child somewhere out of state,” he said.

Picken said his office has hit some stumbling blocks when it comes to getting background check information, both for child placements and for people trying to apply for social service assistance, which requires that the applicants cannot be felons.

Picken said neither his office nor the state’s attorney’s office can go into a person’s private records. Instead, they can request a background check to see if there are warrants out for an individual.

“What we’re finding is that there are people who are guilty of flight from other states and they are showing up here,” he said.

To better expedite applications for services, Picken said his office will be making all their documentation electronic.

“We’ll have to go back and scan in all of the documents we already have, so it will be a pretty labor-intensive project,” he said. “We’ve been told it will save us time. We have case files sometimes that are two or three volumes, and when we have to use certified mail to send them to other counties, it can be expensive.”