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 nissa.knutson@co.washington.mn.us. 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, co.washington.mn.us; under the "Government" tab, select "Advisory Boards and Commissions," then click on the "Child Protection" link.

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