Saturday, March 12, 2016

Volunteers sought for county's child protection advisory panel

Washington County is looking for volunteers, ages 21 and older, to help some of the county's youngest, and most vulnerable, residents.
The Washington County Child Protection Citizen Review Panel is in need of three to five new volunteers to join the board. Normally, it carries a roster of 10 to 12 individuals, but a handful of recent retirements from the board leaves it at seven members—which is the minimum it can have to remain an active board.
The Citizen Review Panel is an advisory group, of sorts, to the county's child protection division, according to Nissa Knutson from Washington County Social Services. It was established in 1999, and is one of only five such panels in the state of Minnesota. All of the members must live in Washington County, but the decisions and recommendations they make also directly affect local families.
Although the panel members do not work directly with children or parents in the county's child protection program, they do advocate for issues facing child protection. Last year, Knutson said, some members were called on to testify before state legislators, or write editorials on matters of concern in child protection laws.
The panel also does different projects to better the county's child protection services. For instance, in 2015, members created duffel bags for kids, filled with personal hygiene items, socks and blankets, so that when a child is taken in by child protection services, he or she has the essentials to get through the first hours. Those duffel bags are stored at the county offices, and used whenever necessary.
A big piece of what the Citizens Review Panel does is called "reconsiderations." Almost every month, the panel reviews documentation regarding the care children are getting from caregivers. If a maltreatment report has been made against a caregiver, the caregiver has the right to appeal the report. The panel reviews those cases and provides an advisory opinion to the county, which in turn helps the county decide whether or not the report will be overturned.
Membership on the Citizens Review Panel comes from all walks of life, from all parts of the county, Knutson said. While meetings are held at the county's Woodbury Service Center along Radio Drive, the panel members live in communities throughout Washington County.
"We have a variety of members," Knutson said. "We really want people with varying backgrounds, who have an interest in how child protection works and how it affects the community and how they can make a difference."
Meetings are held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month. The reconsiderations are done at separate times, scheduled by the panel members. Terms on the Citizen Review Panel are for two years.
There is an application process for interested volunteers, which includes a short questionnaire. The county also asks for references, and does do a background check on potential panel members. The panel members are appointed by the Washington County Board of Commissioners.
Knutson is happy to share more information with anyone who may be interested in a post on the Child Protection Citizen Review Panel. It is, she said, a great chance for residents to become involved and make a difference in the county.
"It is really a great opportunity to get an understanding of issues families face in our community," she said. "It's a chance to understand it, and to make recommendations back to the county on how to serve those families, and what services are needed. I think it is a great opportunity to also get an understanding of what child protection means. It really does allow someone in the community to have some input on what families are receiving as services."
For more information, contact Nissa Knutson at 651-430-4111, or by email at She will be able to send applications and information sheets about the program, and answer any questions.
More information is also available at: the county's website,; under the "Government" tab, select "Advisory Boards and Commissions," then click on the "Child Protection" link.;postID=4710044396546672109

Plan to expand staffing and hours for child protection services could take effect in September

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The Division for Children, Youth and Families unveiled a $1.8 million plan Monday to provide around-the-clock staffing at child protection services, which is currently open during business hours only.
The state agency, which investigates reports of child abuse and neglect, has come under renewed scrutiny following the recent deaths of two New Hampshire toddlers.
A state commission to review child abuse fatalities has been weighing whether to expand the agency’s hours beyond the current Monday through Friday schedule between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
The division’s proposal, presented Monday, would re-purpose existing state money to bring on 18 new child protective workers and supervisors who would primarily cover a new shift from noon to 8 p.m. Some of the workers would also cover overnights and weekends.
The division currently has 176 child protection field workers on staff.
“It would significantly enhance the department’s ability to investigate and respond to reports of abuse and neglect,” said Jeff Meyers, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes child protection services.
Currently, weekend and nighttime complaints are typically covered by local law enforcement, which has requested longer hours at DCYF.
The plan could be in place by September, Meyers said, but it first needs approval from the commission and a legislative fiscal committee.
Some officials questioned whether the agency should beef up its existing staffing levels before expanding its hours.
The report revealed the child protection services division suffers from high staff turnover – which reached 50 percent in the last two years – and a growing number of caseloads. Reports of child abuse and neglect accepted by the division rose 17 percent over the last five years, officials said.
“If you continue to have high turnover rate, you are really never going to catch up. I am concerned about the turnover rate,” said Marc Clement, who represents the New Hampshire Child Fatality Review Committee on the commission.
The commission, going forward, needs to understand what’s behind the turnover, said its chairman, Sen. David Boutin.
“What is (the turnover) related to? Is it related to pay, is it related to benefits, is it related to the work?” asked Boutin, a Hooksett Republican. “What do we need to do to correct it?”
The division had previously released a more expensive 24/7 staffing plan in January, which proposed bringing on more than 50 workers at a cost of $4 million. But that proposal was pulled back in favor of the staffing report released Monday.
HHS Assistant Commissioner Mary Ann Cooney said the new recommendation is scaled back so the department can collect data before it presents a full request in the next state budget – which will be crafted by the governor and Legislature in 2017.
Boutin said the proposal is a good first step, and it will likely come up for a commission vote at the next meeting in late March.
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307, or on Twitter @amorrisNH.)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Fourth Amendment Warrant Requirement

Once the Fourth Amendment applies to a particular search or seizure, the next question is under what circumstances is a Warrant required. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution expresses a preference for searches, seizures, and Arrests conducted pursuant to a lawfully executed warrant (see Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 [1978]). A warrant is a written order signed by a court authorizing a law-enforcement officer to conduct a search, seizure, or arrest. Searches, seizures, and arrests performed without a valid warrant are deemed presumptively invalid, and any evidence seized without a warrant will be suppressed unless a court finds that the search was reasonable under the circumstances.  An application for a warrant must be supported by a sworn, detailed statement made by a law enforcement officer appearing before a neutral judge or magistrate. The Supreme Court has said that probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances within the police officer’s knowledge provide a reasonably trustworthy basis for a man of reasonable caution to believe that a criminal offense has been committed or is about to take place (see Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 [1925]). Probable cause can be established by out-of-court statements made by reliable police informants, even though those statements cannot be tested by the magistrate. However, probable cause will not lie where the only evidence of criminal activity is an officer’s affirmation of suspicion or belief (see Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 [1964]). On the other hand, an officer’s subjective reason for making an arrest does not need to be the same criminal offense for which the facts indicate. (Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146 [2004]). Probable cause will not lie unless the facts supporting the warrant are sworn by the officer as true to the best of his or her knowledge. The officer’s oath can be written or oral, but the officer must typically swear that no knowing or intentionally false statement has been submitted in support of the warrant and that no statement has been made in reckless disregard of the truth. Inaccuracies due to an officer’s negligence or innocent omission do not jeopardize a warrant’s validity. The Fourth Amendment requires not only that warrants be supported by probable cause offered by a sworn police officer, but it also requires that a warrant "particularly" describe the person or place to be searched or seized. Warrants must provide enough detail so that an officer with the warrant can ascertain with reasonable effort the persons and places identified in the warrant. For most residences a street address usually satisfies the particularity requirement, unless the warrant designates an apartment complex, hotel, or other multiple-unit building, in which case the warrant must describe the specific sub-unit to be searched. Warrants must describe individuals with sufficient particularity so that a person of average intelligence can distinguish them from others in the general population. The magistrate before whom an officer applies for a warrant must be neutral and detached. This qualification means that the magistrate must be impartial and not a member of the "competitive enterprise" of law enforcement (see California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565 [1991]). Thus, police officers, prosecutors, and attorney generals are disqualified from becoming a magistrate. States vary as to the requirements that candidates must possess before they will be considered qualified for the job of magistrate. Some states require that magistrates have an attorney’s license, while others require only that their magistrates be literate.