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Human Services audit shows social workers aren't making timely checks on victims of suspected child abuse

State auditor Josh Gallion
Dave Thompson
State auditor Josh Gallion

A biennial audit of the North Dakota Human Services Department says social workers aren’t checking on suspected victims of child abuse and neglect in a timely manner.

DHS policy requires face-to-face contact with suspected child abuse victims are to occur between 24 hours and 14 days, depending on the severity of the abuse. In severe cases, the contact should be within 24 hours. State auditor Josh Gallion told reporters DHS is averaging 13 days.

"To me, as a father, I want to raise awareness, if there is child abuse going on here in the state of North Dakota," Gallion said. "In this state, we can do better, and we must do better."

Galion said it might mean the Department needs more resources – and more workers – to meet the guidelines.

State human services director Chris Jones said DHS agrees with the audit report’s assessment. He said the COVID pandemic exacerbated that issue.

"We had inklings that, because of COVID, we were not get out into as many homes going forward," Jones said in an interview with Prairie Public. "We have a workforce shortage, and we're not able to keep up with the market as it relates to paying for these child welfare workers across the state. They're doing yeomans' work, as it relates to trying to make sure the children are protected."

State Rep. Robin Wiesz (R-Hurdsfield) chairs the House Human Services Committee. He said he doesn’t think anyone could have anticipated the tremendous increase in child abuse complaints and investigations.

"I can say this — as we go into the '23 session, the Legislature is going to take a very hard look at the resources that we need to make sure we're protecting the most vulnerable people of this state," Weisz told reporters. "Nobody wants to see a complaint go 13 days without being investigated."

The audit report also said some childcare providers are operating without proper re-inspection of corrective orders. It said this could jeopardize the health and safety of children.