I grew up on a family farm near Wells, Minnesota with my twin brother, three younger brothers, and 4 younger sisters. My parents purchased the farm when I was 2 years old. I believe the land was first purchased by the U.S. government from the Sisseton and Wahpeton Bands of Dakota for about $.075 per acre in the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851. My parents didn't get nearly as good a deal 107 years later, though the appraised value of the land has also appreciated considerably during my lifetime. My father eventually replaced all of the buildings including the house, doing much of his own carpentry work. This led to his work in farm building construction and an opportunity for all of his sons to be part of his crew for a time.
After high school, I attended St. John's University in Collegeville, earning a B.S degree in Social Work. I found related work in a group home near Pine City and a year later joined two other staff from that group home in starting a new group home near Waverly. I moved on to work for Swift County for 5 years in a foster care position. I also got married during this time. When our first son was born, I began thinking about grad school. A year after starting my MSW program at the University of Minnesota, and right before our second son was born, I took an adult protection position in Rice County. It took longer than I had planned to finish grad school. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a promotion to supervise the agency's child and family unit. It took me about 5 years to see that what we were doing wasn't working, and was likely even making things worse. I realized I didn't know how to get it to work and left. I worked for a few years in day treatment and in-home therapy. Then, after our daughter came along, my wife told me I needed to get a day job and spend more time with our children. So I found a day job supervising Carver County's child and family unit.
It was there, after accepting a promotion to a new manager position, that I had the privilege, beginning in 1995, of leading a full implementation of the Signs of Safety. We worked directly with Andrew Turnell as our consultant. During that time, the county’s budget was cut repeatedly, forcing a more than 40% reduction in the use of purchased child welfare placement and treatment services. In the midst of this, twelve month repeat maltreatment determinations were first reduced and then stopped entirely for four straight years. As assessment social workers developed skill and confidence in safety planning, the number of cases passed on for ongoing casework were reduced by 40%. As the agency transitioned from responding to the latest report, to identifying and building safety to all known harm and danger, the number of child protection reports being made each year stabilized. The number of children in out-of-home placement hit a 20 year low. Social workers grew happier with the county’s child welfare services and social worker skill and satisfaction increased significantly. Even though the budget cuts were never fun, the transition from services to safety planning created an incredible level of confidence in the value and effectiveness of safety planning and a strong desire to do far more to help spread the Signs of Safety throughout Minnesota and across the United States.