After 22 years in public service, the former head of the Minnesota Office of Justice is now Board Chair of the Minnesota Children’s Alliance. Jeri Boisvert (pronounced like “boh-vehr”), an energetic, courageous, determined woman, took over the reins of Board Chair from Julia Classen last month. She previously joined the board as a member after her retirement from Minnesota state government in 2013.
“There are two things we must continue to work on,” said Boisvert about her 2017 term with the Minnesota Children’s Alliance. “One is to strengthen and diversify our board. Two, I want to assist [Chapter Director] Marcia [Milliken] in her major goal of focusing on diversity issues in CACs to provide access to the highest quality service for everyone,” she said.
“Minnesota is a relatively small state in population,” said Boisvert, adding, “but we’re a changing state with underserved populations. We have to examine our services to make sure access is truly attuned to our population.”
The White Earth Reservation, the largest by land area in Minnesota, has taken steps to work with the Alliance in creating their own child advocacy center. While the core principle of a CAC is always to help children and families heal from abuse, the way some people respond to help is different. The way a facility feels, looks and is run matters just as much as the way the staff and programs function.
For example, religious and spiritual rituals for members of a tribe may include specialized rooms, ceremonies, and acts as part of a mental or physical healing practice. “Ultimately this CAC and this work may look different from others. We need to be there to learn from and assist White Earth in how they serve kids,” said Boisvert.
“We’re just trying to be a partner out there. We’re committed to the diversity our state is experiencing,” said Boisvert. A sentiment she echoes to CACs around Minnesota. “We see ourselves as a partner. We’re not here to step on anyone’s toes. There’s a lot of work for us all to do to improve services for kids and families around Minnesota,” said Boisvert.
Some of that work includes examining Minnesota’s nation-leading rate of children who continually re-enter the foster care system, gathering data on services provided to children with disabilities, educating the public about how to report suspected abuse and Minnesota’s high rate of disparities with under-represented populations in surveys and studies.
“We get feedback where there are issues of kids of color getting treated differently,” said Boisvert. “Everyone has biases, but we have to be able to separate those biases from reality to make sure people feel comfortable coming to a CAC. We have to make sure we’re reaching rational decisions, so prevention and intervention occur in their best interest.”
Everyone has biases, but we have to be able to separate those biases from reality to make sure people feel comfortable coming to a CAC.
After growing up in the small city of Grand Marais in northern Minnesota, later living in the cities, being “a good Catholic school girl,” and spending two decades in state government, Boisvert takes her role as a public servant seriously. But perhaps nothing has framed her thinking on abuse prevention and intervention than her own experience. “My mom was a victim of all kinds of abuse,” she recalls. “I’m motivated to improve the world to ensure kids are heard; that interventions and preventions occur that are healing. I’m motivated by my people stories,” she said.
“I’ve always been committed to making whatever system I’m in work optimally for the people they were designed to serve. I really believe in being a public servant, and I feel like I served the public. Now even though I’m retired, I was just born to serve. I believe in justice and servant leadership. Dorky as all that sounds – it’s true. I’m really committing to making myself a better person. It’s important for me to do things in retirement and being engaged in a way that strengthens the community. I’m a public servant at heart,” said Boisvert.