ND audit finds delays in child abuse contacts

BISMARCK (AP) — A new audit shows North Dakota’s Department of Human Services continues to fall short of establishing timely contact with individuals when investigating extreme cases of child abuse.

The state analysis found the department averaged 13 days before staff had face-to-face contact in those cases, instead of within 24 hours as its policy requires.

State Auditor Josh Gallion says if the department had addressed the delays when first identified in 2018, “577 cases of severe child abuse for extended amounts of time may have been avoided.”

Gallion appeared Wednesday with House Human Services Committee Chairman Robin Weisz to address the audit’s findings.

“What I would like to hope this starts is a conversation,” Gallion said. “To me as a father, I want to raise awareness if there is child abuse going on here in the state of North Dakota. I think that in this state we can do better and we must do better.”

Human Services Executive Director Chris Jones said the agency’s next two-year budget proposal should help address the issue.

“It’s meant to be a whole approach to children and families but there will be additional recommendations as it relates to funding and resources as it relates to those areas specifically,” Jones told the Bismarck Tribune.

He said high staff turnover and difficulties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have been challenging, such as more children being at home and people being less likely to want others coming into their homes.

Three consecutive audits have found the issue of untimely contact, despite recommendations Human Services address it, according to the auditor’s office.