Every ten years, the United States Census helps governments, nonprofits, and enterprises understand the American public. Because of the Census, every American can better understand their community, migration patterns, and establish proper representation in legislatures. As helpful and necessary as the Census is, it’s not a good mechanism for planning more strategic social services. For that, providers need a better community assessment. The Minnesota Children’s Alliance has produced a state-level report and county-level reports designed to help the Alliance, local leaders, and advocates better understand and respond to the needs and interests of their communities.
Marcia Milliken, Executive Director of the Alliance, sought to answer a key question in the process: “How able are children and families able to access the services they need in a culturally-responsive way in their own communities and where do barriers exist?”
The assessment utilized a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention framework on factors related to child abuse and maltreatment, then pulled together population level data – such as Census data, public policy research, and information from the American Community Survey – to develop a high level understanding of the communities served by local CACs. Specifically, the Alliance sought to understand:
- Whether or not child advocacy centers across Minnesota are meeting demand for services.
- When children in suspected abuse situations need medical care and, can they find the right medical provider, afford payments or insurance, and receive a proper outcome.
- Demographics and socioeconomic trends in counties across Minnesota.
The population level data assessment is just the start of an ongoing process to understand the experiences of children in our state: “It’s important for us to recognize some context,” says Katie Rojas-Jahn, Special Projects Director at the Alliance. “The questions we ask determine the data that’s available and often times those questions are asked negatively,” she says. “For instance, knowing about poverty levels in a county is an important consideration, but it doesn’t tell us about the wealth of experience, initiative and resilience that people bring to their lives. Bringing that qualitative information into our assessments is just as important.”
Putting the data to work
CACs are already gleaning early insights in support of their work. “We know we have a growing population of Hmong families in our county, but we didn’t realize that a high proportion might be in need of interpreter services,” shared Katie Salden, Director of the Redwood County Child Advocacy Center. “When we’re conducting investigations [of reported child abuse], we have to prepare for this, and we know there is a shortage of interpreters in our area. Addressing this early will support families and put us on an early path to relationship building.”
Some of the key trends identified in the report include:
- Minnesota’s population is rapidly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, with one in four residents projected to be a person of color by 2035.
- The state’s population is aging, with the population age 65+ accounting for over 20 percent in many counties throughout Greater Minnesota. This shift could impact the availability of resources for services focused on children.
- Overall, rates of poverty, known to be a critical factor influencing health and well-being, have decreased.
- Child maltreatment reports increased by eight percent in 2015 over the prior year. The number of accepted reports increased by 22.4 percent.
- Most often, there are disparate outcomes and disproportionate representation in the child protection system observable by race and ethnicity.
“This all gets very intellectual very quickly. But the goal is to learn about the experiences of children and families in our communities,” says Rojas-Jahn. “Good assessments don’t provide all the answers, they help us learn, build relationships, ask questions, and create more responsive services.
Questions about these reports should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Alliance will share a summary of these reports with Minnesota’s state and federal legislators, county-level executives, and agency directors over the next year.
 Minnesota Department of Human Services. Minnesota’s Child Maltreatment Report, 2015. https://edocs.dhs.state.mn.us/lfserver/Public/DHS-5408H-ENG. Accessed September 16, 2017.