Crosslake child torture suspect has lengthy history with child protection

A Dispatch review of hundreds of court documents and police reports paints a picture of neglect, abuse and defiance of judges’ orders more than a decade before the recent torture case.

Contributed / Shutterstock

BRAINERD — In November 2022, the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office charged Jorden Nicole Borders of Crosslake with six felonies — three for child torture and three for stalking — after doctors reported suspicions of medical child abuse against her own children.

Since that time, a Dispatch review of hundreds of court documents and police reports linked to Borders and her husband Christopher Badowicz paints a picture of neglect, abuse and defiance of judges’ orders — along with extensive contact with Crow Wing County Community Services and multiple local law enforcement agencies — more than a decade before the torture case came to light. And interviews with experts seek to explore the strengths and weaknesses of Minnesota’s child protection system to form a better understanding of how this case came to be.

Looking at past history

When a family therapist evaluated Jorden Borders and Christopher Badowicz in June 2022 as part of a juvenile protection case stemming from medical child abuse, both denied having other children.

Those denials, as reported in an affidavit signed by a Crow Wing County social worker, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Long before the 32-year-old Crosslake woman faced six felony charges, including the torture of her three youngest children, Borders lost custody of her first two biological children to their fathers due to ongoing concerns of neglect. The oldest child of Badowicz was removed from his care when his then-fiancee Borders punched the 6-year-old in the head in plain view of a medical professional. And a judge ordered Borders to have no unsupervised contact with yet another child belonging to a friend — the younger sibling of a 5-year-old Brainerd boy who died unexpectedly in 2012.


Jorden Nicole Borders.jpg
Jorden Nicole Borders.

Borders was charged Nov. 21 with three serious felony counts of child torture and three felony counts of stalking following a child maltreatment investigation beginning in May by the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office. The investigation revealed Borders allegedly tortured her three young children through actions like withdrawing blood , forcing them to wear casts and neck braces despite not having injuries and inflicting frequent physical and emotional abuse as punishment.

Doctors from multiple health care systems involved in the care of the children, who began to share similar and troubling suspicions of abuse, pointed to a potential diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy for Borders. The syndrome, according to the National Library of Medicine, is a mental illness and form of child abuse more often found in women, typically the child’s caretaker or mother. Those with the rare syndrome, now known as medical child abuse, either make up fake symptoms or cause real symptoms to give the appearance of illness in a child.

Typically, torture charges carry a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison, a $35,000 fine or both. The penalty for the stalking charges includes a maximum of 10 years of prison time and/or a $20,000 fine. Stalking is described in Minnesota statute as when the perpetrator knows they would cause a victim to feel terrorized or to fear bodily harm, and when their actions do cause those feelings.

In this case, however, Assistant County Attorney Janine LePage filed a Jan. 24 notice of intent to seek an aggravated sentence for Borders, should she be convicted. The prosecutor stated she would file a motion seeking an upward departure from the statutory maximum while imposing consecutive sentences for each victim.

The aggravating factors, according to LePage, include the vulnerability of the victims due to their ages and the isolated nature of their residence, Borders’ violation of her position of authority and trust as their mother, and the presence of the children during the commission of crimes against their siblings.

“Due to their ages, all three victims were unable to flee from defendant and were unable to shield themselves, or each other, from defendant’s abuse,” the court filing stated.

Borders’ next court appearance is an omnibus hearing scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, via Zoom.

Public Defender Mark Hansen, who is representing Borders, said his client will not provide comment while the criminal prosecution is underway.


“These charges are very early in the process,” Hansen said Feb. 10. “We’ve got a system in our government where people are presumed innocent and we count on the prosecution’s job here to seek justice, which is a very important aspect of it, no matter what the allegations are.

“ … Ms. Borders is presumed innocent. She looks forward to presenting her side of the story and telling what went on and what’s going on. But really now is not the time for that. That will come out as we get further into the process.”

Badowicz, meanwhile, faces a felony after he allegedly concealed Borders’ whereabouts when police sought to arrest her at their Crosslake residence. Reached by phone Wednesday, Feb. 8, Badowicz declined the opportunity to comment on his past contacts with Community Services and declined to discuss the current felony charge.

“If you keep this up, I am going to file a lawsuit against you,” Badowicz said. “ … The fact you’re slandering my name, running my name into the ground — if you file it, I will file a lawsuit.”

Badowicz’s next court appearance is a remote omnibus hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. April 6 as both attorneys in the case work on a plea deal.

Mugshot of Christopher Martin Badowicz.
Christopher Martin Badowicz
Contributed / Crow Wing County Jail

A total of 18 child protection intake reports and three child maltreatment reports spanning 2007 through 2022 were set to be introduced as exhibits last summer as part of a Child in Need of Protection or Services, or CHIPS, petition brought by the county. The petition concerned the 11-year-old boy, 10-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl at the center of the torture case along with their three parents: Borders, the mother of all three; Badowicz, the father of the two youngest; and another man, the father of the oldest child.

How could Borders, deemed a safety risk to the health and well-being of four separate children in her lifetime, go on to allegedly perpetrate torture and medical child abuse against three others in the 10 years since? Did individuals or agencies within the system miss the signs? Do the laws governing the system or philosophies underpinning it fail to contemplate situations like this one? Or is it something else?

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle noted the incredible complexity of medical child abuse cases, which often require a substantial amount of time for health care providers to first recognize red flags and then have enough evidence to definitively rule out true medical causes.


Once the county received the initial May 2022 report and medical records of the middle child, it took emergency custody immediately and sought the termination of parental rights just six days later, Houle noted. It took action to remove the other two children as soon as thousands of other pages of medical records were received, despite resistance from Borders to voluntarily grant access.

“The bottom line is always, what are the facts? What happened? And you know in this case, you’ve got motivated people who are not telling you what the facts are,” Houle said. “And when there’s so many hospitals and doctors involved and there’s an intent to deceive here, it is hard for the medical community to see the whole. So I just think that Children’s (Minnesota hospital) did a remarkably good job here.”

Crow Wing County Community Services officials declined to comment on the specifics of the cases involving Borders and Badowicz, citing the ongoing criminal matters. But in interviews, Kara Griffin, division manager for children and families, offered insight into how the county approaches its child protection work, including the processes, checks and balances and challenges along the way.

Kara Griffin sits in her office
Kara Griffin, division manager for children and families for Crow Wing County Community Services, discusses the child protection work of the agency during a Jan. 18, 2023, interview.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

“People should get angry. People should be upset. I want to hear that,” Griffin said. “If we were all — as a society and community members and as people — saying like, ‘Well, there’s a system in place. They’re doing their job, I’m not gonna worry about it.’ No. People should be angry. They should be asking questions. They should care.

“That's what gives us hope to show up every day and keep doing this job, is that people do care. … This is really hard work. And we have really good people and they want to do a good job when they show up each day.”

Community Services Director Kara Terry said there is a great deal of information and work the agency cannot share.

“It is easy to judge our work from the outside and we know there is a great deal more to the story,” Terry wrote in an email.

In this series of stories, the Dispatch will examine what records reveal about the children of Borders’ past and explore the viewpoints of child protection experts on the state of the system in Minnesota.


Concerns with Borders’ parenting arise

Borders was first known to Crow Wing County Community Services as early as the summer of 2007, when, at the age of 16, she gave birth to her first child. The child’s date of birth coincides with the dates of the two earliest child protection intake reports included in a 2022 exhibit list, intended to be introduced in court as part of the Child in Need of Protection or Services trial last summer.

When a minor gives birth, the state of Minnesota requires hospitals to report it to the social services agency for the county in which the minor resides. If the mother does not already have a case manager, the social services agency must contact her and determine whether she has a plan for herself and her child.

About a year later, a Crow Wing County judge awarded joint legal and physical custody of the baby to Borders and the child’s father, also a teenager, who sought to be legally named as the father by the court. Once a court establishes a man as the legal father of a child, he is obligated to provide financial support and may seek custody and parenting time.

In the spring of 2009, the baby’s father filed a motion seeking to amend the custody arrangement — the first indication of concerns regarding Borders’ parenting and alleged falsehoods about her child’s health, according to documents obtained through a Dispatch request for access to confidential records. In an affidavit submitted to the court, the father explained he’d been caring for the child for about four months on his own and provided a chronology of events he said demonstrated Borders’ inability to make good decisions regarding their child’s care.

Among the issues raised was an unsafe living environment for the 16-month-old child in Borders’ Brainerd apartment, which close family members visited and discovered overflowing garbage, dirty diapers, rotting milk in sippy cups and items scattered on the floor including cigarette butts, empty beer cans and pill bottles. Bottles of alcohol were also found in the 18-year-old’s freezer, described as within reach of the toddler. About a month earlier, Brainerd police cited Borders and two others for underage consumption after responding to a report of a loud party inside her apartment.

Shortly after the apartment visit, those family members and the child’s father met with social services to describe the safety issues. According to the father, he heard from social services the following day and was told the home was safe for the child’s return, and the agency would conduct more home visits with Borders.

About two weeks later, family members visited the apartment again to drop off Christmas gifts. Although they could hear the child inside, Borders did not answer the door, the affidavit stated. Concerned about their welfare, the visitors informed the apartment manager, who opened the door. Inside, they found the toddler wandering alone while Borders slept, the sliding glass door open to a second-floor deck.

The family members offered to clean Borders’ apartment, which was once again described as being “in shambles,” the following day. While cleaning, they found what appeared to be drug paraphernalia on the floor and brought it to the police station.


A Dec. 25, 2008, incident report completed by the Brainerd Police Department confirms the circumstances as described in the court document. A police officer accompanied the family member back to the apartment to confront Borders about the paraphernalia, which was described as a wooden box used to store marijuana and a metal pipe. Borders told police it belonged to a coworker, although she said she understood why it was a concern for the child to have access to it.

The officer told Borders the child would remain in the care of the father’s family until social services followed up, and according to the report, she again stated she understood. The officer ended the report by stating it would be forwarded to social services.

Illustration of the scales of justice.
Contributed / Shutterstock

Another meeting with social services occurred about two weeks later, the father told the court, and this time it included Borders. During this meeting, family members noted concerns about whether Borders fed the child nutritious foods. Although enrolled in the WIC program — the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — Borders apparently failed to pick up her most recent voucher.

The social worker stated the agency would seek psychiatric testing, counseling and parenting classes while performing unannounced home visits, according to the affidavit. In the meantime, the child remained in the care of the father and the father’s family.

Two weeks after the meeting with the social worker, the child became sick, so the caretakers visited the doctor. While discussing the toddler’s impending 18-month vaccines, the family learned the child was six vaccines behind schedule and had not yet received those typically administered at 6 months old. Borders allegedly told the father these were completed, the affidavit stated.

“Jorden’s lies in regards to (the child’s) medical care are inexcusable,” the father wrote.

Another alleged lie told by Borders concerning the child’s health arose two months later in April, when the father received a phone call from one of Borders’ family members asking if the child was OK. The father learned Borders told relatives living in another state that the child received stitches because a dresser fell on top of them — an incident he told the judge was fabricated.

After the 2009 motion and attached affidavit were filed with the court, the judge awarded temporary sole physical custody of the child to the father while allowing Borders supervised parenting time. This order was renewed three months later, with the judge adding a requirement for Borders to submit to certain assessments.


In the spring of 2010, Borders gave birth to a second child with a different man, and during the same year, another family court case commenced related to those parentage and custody arrangements.

The case involving Borders’ first child returned to court once or twice a year through early 2012, and the judge affirmed the custody arrangement each time while imposing new requirements upon Borders related to chemical use, communication with parenting time supervisors and other matters.

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In May 2011, the judge agreed to graduate Borders’ parenting time with the 3-year-old from supervised to unsupervised, if she met the conditions. But the father and his family continued to raise concerns about Borders’ parenting, even with the limited time she spent with the child.

Later in the year, the father asked the court to take unsupervised visits off the table after he learned Borders allowed the child to be transported by Badowicz, with whom she was now associated. Badowicz had a revoked license at the time along with a lengthy record of traffic violations, including recent careless driving and passing in a no-passing zone citations.

Ahead of the court hearing related to that request, family members submitted letters to the judge regarding the behavior of Borders, who was pregnant by that time with her third child — now the alleged 11-year-old victim in the current torture case. The letters implored the judge to consider Borders’ unwillingness to take the necessary steps to improve her parenting skills.

“Ms. Borders repeatedly places (the child) in situations that are harmful, despite the many county workers, LSS (Lutheran Social Service), family and friends that have reached out to help her since the birth of (the child) in 2007,” one letter stated, adding Borders sometimes went months without contacting her child. The letter writer noted a conversation with a relative of Borders’ second child, who appeared to share similar concerns.

A second letter penned by a close family member of Borders asked the judge to hold her accountable to orders she continued to defy, including those requiring parenting classes or psychological assessments.

“Jorden has struggled to maintain consistency with mothering her children, keeping them in a safe environment and providing for their health needs since the birth of each child,” the letter stated. “ … I write this letter in hopes that she will understand the long term effects of her choices should she decide to continue to ignore the court orders given and that Jorden would realize that those that love and care for her want to see her succeed, however her successes and failures are ultimately up to her.”

In a December 2011 order, the judge agreed Borders’ parenting time — two hours each week — should be supervised. The document stated the judge was concerned about Borders’ behavior, including her failure to comply with orders and inconsistencies in her living situations, employment, relationships and parenting time.

“There is substantial evidence that unsupervised visits with Jorden would imperil the child at the present time,” the order stated.

Two months later in February 2012, after Borders again did not comply with the order by failing to pay for a parenting time expeditor, the judge suspended her parenting time entirely. Borders did not appear at the hearing. Within weeks, the judge issued a final decision, awarding sole legal and physical custody of the child to the father. The judge also ordered Borders to have no further contact with the child.

Meanwhile, the case associated with Borders’ second child proceeded through family court around the same time, and that judge issued a final order establishing custody and parenting time just three weeks after the mother was barred from seeing her oldest child.

According to the document, to which the Dispatch gained access through a records request, the father was awarded sole physical custody, while Borders had parenting time every third weekend. Much of the rest of the order contained language and directions typical of a child custody arrangement, but two elements included were not: orders for Borders to continue to participate in individual counseling and to take medications prescribed by her physician, and an order requiring her to complete cognitive testing and an updated psychological evaluation.

It remains unclear whether Borders complied with these requirements, and it appears she did not exercise her rights to parenting time. According to a July 2022 affidavit written by a county social worker, Borders has not seen either of her first two children in more than a decade.

Borders’ violence plays role in removal of Badowicz’s child

Currently, Christopher Badowicz faces one felony charge related to his alleged attempt to conceal Borders’ whereabouts, but is not accused of the torture or stalking offenses his wife faces. The 38-year-old, however, has his own history with law enforcement and the child welfare system, extending beyond his association with Borders.

On Dec. 5, 2008 — coincidentally, the exact date family members of Borders first observed the messy apartment she shared with her oldest child — Crow Wing County Community Services requested assistance from the sheriff’s office to place a child on a 72-hour hold. The child was a 2-month-old infant diagnosed with failure to thrive at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, the sheriff’s office incident report stated. Although Badowicz was not the baby’s father, he described himself as a caretaker while living with the baby and the baby’s mother, with whom he shared an older child.

The county initially took emergency custody of the infant only, according to court documents obtained by the Dispatch through a confidential records request. Eleven days later on Dec. 16, however, the agency asked the court to order emergency removal of the older child as well “after the parents failed to cooperate with social services, which escalated concerns regarding (the child’s) welfare based upon multiple reports of physical abuse” by the child’s mother.

A Crosby Police Department report from the same date stated a Crow Wing County dispatcher called the department to report Badowicz left Community Services with his child, despite a protective hold in place. The dispatcher asked Crosby police for help in locating Badowicz, who lived in Crosby at the time. The sheriff’s office also took part in the attempt to locate, ultimately removing the child and placing them in foster care.

Citing positive attachment with the child, along with Badowicz’s cooperation in removing the mother from his home and complying with other conditions, the 3-year-old returned to Badowicz’s care in August 2009. But concerns about the child’s welfare persisted, according to a May 2010 report from the guardian ad litem assigned to the case. Guardians ad litem act independently of county social services and the court system, representing the interests of abused or neglected children in court proceedings.

Per the guardian’s conversations with the school district, the child displayed anger and aggressive behavior at times and told teachers he worried about making Badowicz mad, the report stated.

“It appears that Mr. Badowicz is a rather passive parent and that he does not take an active role in or do much to monitor (the child’s) educational success,” the guardian wrote. “He has always been cooperative and easy to speak to, but does not appear to take a lot of initiative when it comes to learning parenting skills and engaging with his child in age-appropriate activities.”

A Brainerd Police Department report raising the prospect of child maltreatment in June 2011 is the earliest known document showing an association between Borders and Badowicz. At the time, Borders lived in a Brainerd duplex and was approximately 4 months pregnant with her third child with a third father. Badowicz continued to live in Crosby with his 5-year-old, but the incident described in the Brainerd police report occurred outside Borders’ home.

The complainant described hearing a child scream and then watching them run around outside. Badowicz allegedly gripped the child by the shoulders and yelled at them to get into the truck before grabbing them and putting them in the vehicle. The caller stated they did not witness Badowicz strike the child, and Badowicz later told police the child was misbehaving but not injured. The report was marked as “information only.”

Two months later, Brainerd police took another child maltreatment incident report — this time, from a southeast Brainerd resident who lived near a home where Badowicz was working in the front yard. The caller said they heard yelling and went onto their deck to investigate, witnessing Badowicz slap his child’s head hard enough to cause them to bend over at the waist.

The officer spoke to Badowicz, who admitted to hitting the child because they misbehaved. He told police he didn’t use much force and demonstrated by lightly slapping his forearm, the report stated. Noted in the report was a yellowish bruise on the child’s forehead area. The officer asked the child about the bruise, and they said they’d run into a wall while playing.

“(The officer) advised Christopher that physical violence against the child is inappropriate regardless of the child’s actions and asked Christopher if he knew what a better form of discipline would be. Christopher stated he usually puts (the child) in a time-out, but that he was angry this time and struck him,” the report stated.

The incident was to be forwarded to Crow Wing County Community Services, according to the report. The Dispatch was unable to confirm whether the county received the information.

In November 2011, Crosby police took a third report of possible maltreatment related to Badowicz’s child in the span of five months. The complainant in this case mentioned the neglect while reporting a separate incident involving Badowicz borrowing their truck, which police later determined to be unfounded due to lack of evidence.

According to the report, the child was not allowed to eat at the dinner table and instead ate in their room, where they were often locked for hours at a time. The child was yelled at frequently and was very timid as a result, the complainant reported, although they noted they were unsure whether physical abuse occurred.

An officer called a school district employee to discuss the allegations and learned of other accusations, but nothing verified. The employee told police they would talk to the child the next day and report back if necessary. The report contained nothing further.

The following spring, the school district reported possible maltreatment of Badowicz’s child to Crow Wing County, according to documents included in the juvenile protection court case pursued shortly thereafter. The Dispatch obtained the court file through a request for access to confidential records.

The April 30, 2012, report noted the child missed three days of school and returned with a bruise on their head. The child said they hit their head on a window.

“However, there were concerns as to the accuracy of this due to prior reports of Jorden Borders hitting (the child) in the head with a frying pan during July 2011,” the document stated. This alleged incident is not mentioned elsewhere in law enforcement reports, although a child protection intake report intended to be introduced in court last year — the contents of which are unknown — was dated July 7, 2011.

About three weeks later, the child arrived at school with scrapes on their face, reporting to school staff the injuries occurred when Badowicz “ripped” them out of the truck. Staff also reported the child was often unbathed, wore the same clothes repeatedly and asked for extra snacks.

The next week brought the incident prompting the county to seek emergency removal of the child. Following a psychological examination of the child taking place as part of the family assessment underway by Community Services, Borders arrived for pick up. The child told the psychiatric nurse they would not leave with Borders and put up a struggle when she tried to place them in the car seat.

“(The child) then hit Jorden in the face with (their) fist. As the reporter was standing there, Jorden immediately punched (them) back with a closed fist. The mandated reporter — someone required to report the facts and circumstances that led them to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected — observed Jorden hit (the child) in the left side of (their) face,” the report stated.

According to the reporter, Borders acknowledged hitting the child and said Badowicz told her to hit or bite the child back if the child hit or bit her. She also said she’d previously hit the child, but never left a mark. Badowicz later denied he would tell anyone to hit a kid.

As Borders landed the punch, her 6-month-old son — her third child, and the oldest victim involved in the 2022 torture case — sat in the backseat. She was pregnant with her fourth child, whose later medical mysteries would serve as the impetus for a closer look by authorities and eventual criminal charges. The Dispatch was unable to determine whether any intervention or follow-up took place concerning Borders’ baby at the time.

The same day, a Crosby police report noted a 72-hour hold to be placed on the child and possible assault charges, with the suspect named as Borders and the location noted as Cuyuna Range Elementary School. Badowicz’s child told school staff scratches on their back and arms were from Borders, who also pinched them, according to the county’s motion seeking an emergency protective care order two days later.

After the court granted the motion for the child to remain in foster care for the time being, a hearing allowing Badowicz to admit or deny the allegations occurred days later. Badowicz entered a denial. The judge affirmed the previous order to keep the child in the county’s custody and added a provision for Badowicz to ensure Borders did not attend the child’s kindergarten graduation, per the county’s request.

During the next court hearing two weeks later, the judge sought to sort out competing recommendations between the county and the guardian ad litem assigned to the case.

The county indicated a willingness to return the child to Badowicz’s custody under a variety of conditions, including in-home family services, a safety plan and random drug testing. The agency did not request an updated parenting assessment, noting Badowicz underwent one during his previous child protection proceeding. County recommendations did not include a parenting psychological evaluation for Borders because she was a “non-party” — although Community Services did request the court issue an order excluding Borders from the child’s home.

The court’s authority to take this step resides in state law : “If it appears … there are reasonable grounds to believe the child is in immediate and present danger of domestic child abuse, the court may grant … relief as it deems proper, including an order … excluding the alleged abusing party from the dwelling which the family or household members share or from the residence of the child.”

The guardian ad litem, meanwhile, appeared hesitant to support the child’s return to Badowicz’s care without more information, citing fears for the child’s physical safety. The guardian “was concerned that (Badowicz) is a passive danger in allowing Jorden Borders to inflict harm on the child,” and asked the judge to order an updated parenting evaluation for Badowicz. The guardian amended their report to add the concerns specific to Borders.

“Jorden Borders has 3 children; she has custody of one child,” the report stated. “Ms. Borders is court ordered to have no contact with her oldest child because she failed to comply with the court’s order. The fact that Ms. Borders has refused to comply with the court’s order causes this guardian to suspect that she likely would violate any orders issued by the present court.”

The judge incorporated recommendations from both, agreeing the child could return to Badowicz at the discretion of the county and if he ensured services. But he must undergo an updated parenting psychological evaluation and Borders was not allowed in Badowicz’s home, the order stated. The attorney representing Badowicz, however, informed the court his client and Borders intended to marry.

Five days after the judge issued the ruling, in another pretrial hearing, the county made an oral motion requesting physical custody of the child be transferred to relatives. Badowicz agreed to the custody transfer, documents show, after a meeting with a social worker, guardians ad litem and the relatives.

“The parties discussed the complexities of the case, the concerns revolving around Jorden’s parenting issues, combined with (the child’s) high needs; and also discussed what a safety plan would need to look like,” a guardian ad litem report stated. “Due to the severity of the allegations, Jorden is not allowed in the home when (the child) is present. Jorden and Chris are in a significant relationship. Jorden lives in the home with Chris and she is approximately 4 to 5 months pregnant.

“ … It was apparent that the decision to transfer custody of (the child) to (relatives) was a difficult one for Chris to make, but one in which Chris said he felt was the best decision for his family, under the circumstances.”

The judge agreed to the physical custody transfer with Badowicz maintaining shared legal custody. The order also required no contact between Borders and the child moving forward.

A decade later, Badowicz’s decision to voluntarily transfer custody was a fact used by a social worker to petition for the removal of the oldest and youngest of the three children at the center of the torture case. The middle child was already in a foster home by July 2022, after the county took emergency custody while he was hospitalized in May.

“Chris and Jorden initially verbalized that they would do anything they needed to do to keep (Badowicz’s) child in their care. However when Jorden was requested to complete a Parenting Psychological Evaluation and it was recommended she move from the home, the couple disclosed that they planned to get married,” the petition stated.

“The agency originally believed Chris to be a safety factor for the children in this home, however, based on the child protection history regarding both parents, as well as the medical records reviewed thus far, there is concern that he is unable to provide safety to children in his care. It is greatly concerning that he transferred custody of a child to relatives to maintain a relationship with Jorden, and it causes concern for his ability to ensure safety of the two children in his home given the allegations against Jorden.”

In the order granting the county’s motion to maintain custody of the children, the judge recapped the county’s concerns related to the couple’s child protection history and noted their objections.

“Ms. Borders objects to agency’s request and believes (the children) are happy, healthy, and safe in their home,” the order stated. “Ms. Borders maintains the former allegations are over a decade old and should not have a bearing on this case. Mr. Badowicz also objects to the former allegations being a factor in this matter and argues the facts are mischaracterized in the agency’s Petition.

“ … (Assistant Crow Wing County Attorney) Mr. (Marc) Hedman maintains that it is not simply the former CHIPS matters that are being considered, but rather it is an amalgamation of the circumstances and the agency’s concerns regarding possible medical abuse of all three children.”

Judge orders no contact with another child

While 2012 brought the loss of custody of her first two children along with the removal and eventual custody transfer of her future husband’s child, Borders became entwined in yet another juvenile protection case during the same year — all within the span of two months.

The case stemmed from the April 8, 2012, death of a 5-year-old boy in Brainerd, the investigation of which was recently reopened by the Brainerd Police Department because of its connection to Borders. The police department decided to take a closer look at the incident one day after the Dispatch submitted a data request to inspect the investigative file. According to the incident report, Borders was the person who called 911 that morning to report the death.

In December, Deputy Chief John Davis confirmed Borders was not the mother of the child but declined to elaborate on her connection to the case. New details in court documents — part of the child protection effort with the dead boy’s younger sibling — reveal concerns about Borders’ relationship with the family that resulted in another judge’s order for her to have no unsupervised contact with another child. The Dispatch acquired the information through a request for access to confidential court records.

In June 2012, with her younger child in the care of a family member pending autopsy results and a suspicious death investigation, the boy’s mother mentioned the advice of a friend to the guardian ad litem assigned to the case. The guardian was the same person assigned to the ongoing proceedings involving Badowicz’s child, who was placed in foster care just two weeks earlier.

The advice, the mother said, involved how to discipline her son, who’d begun acting out in recent months. Questions surrounding the mother’s disciplinary techniques factored into the investigation at the time, before the cause of death was determination.

“About February 2012 a friend of (the mother’s) gave (the mother) an ‘adult conversation’ about ‘giving in and catering to (her son) too much,’” the guardian’s report stated. “(The mother) began to evaluate her relationship with (her son), and agreed that she was too passive with (her son). (The mother) stated that she began to set boundaries and expectations for (her son). If (her son) did not comply with the boundaries and expectations, then (the mother) would discipline (her son). (The mother) identified the friend as Jorden Borders.”

The mother explained her son hadn’t felt well in the days leading up to his death and she believed he suffered from a common childhood virus passed between family members. Borders became part of the story again when the mother said Borders and her infant son slept in the apartment the night before the boy’s death, leaving early in the morning — sometime in the hours before the 7:15 a.m. 911 call.

“(The mother) stated that her friend Jorden checked (her son) early on the morning of April 9, 2012, while he was sleeping on (the mother),” the report stated. “(The mother) reported that Jorden checked (her son’s) ‘breathing, pulse and heart rate.’ After checking (the boy’s) vitals, Jorden left (the mother’s) apartment. When asked why it was necessary to have Jorden check (the boy’s) vitals, (the mother) indicated that Jorden is trained in that kind of work and knows what she is doing.”

The mother told the guardian when she realized her son was not breathing later that morning, she panicked and tried to contact her boyfriend and her friend Borders, unable to remember how to dial 911. Borders then made the emergency call on her behalf.

The Dispatch confirmed Borders was registered as a nursing assistant in the state of Minnesota at the time, acquiring her certificate in January 2010. Her certification expired in 2013. A request to the Minnesota Nursing Assistant Registry seeking more information on Borders’ education or work history is pending.

In July 2012, the medical examiner’s office determined the 5-year-old died of natural causes, and the boy’s younger sibling returned to the care of their mother on an extended home visit. Shortly after, the guardian visited the mother’s home and interrupted a chat between Borders and the mother, who sought to conceal the presence of Borders and her child from the guardian that day. Borders was known to the guardian at the time, as the visit came approximately one month after Badowicz voluntarily agreed to transfer the custody of his child. The guardian later learned Borders and her infant son were hiding in a bedroom, based on the mother’s admission.

“Throughout my visit, I heard noises coming from (the mother’s) bedroom. I asked (the mother) what those noises were, and she said she was babysitting a friend’s baby,” the report stated. “This all seemed very odd to me because there is no reason for (the mother) to hide her friendships.”

During a pretrial hearing a week later, Crow Wing County requested custody return to the mother with protective supervision continuing for a time. The guardian, however, said they felt such a move was premature and believed the court should restrict contact between the child and Borders. The guardian noted concern over whether the mother recognized the potentially harmful nature of Borders’ involvement with the children.

“(The guardian) indicated that the contact between (the mother and child) is appropriate but has only been observed for a few weeks. The (guardian) also indicated concern that (the mother) was in contact with Jordin Borders (sic), whom the (guardian) knows from prior CHIPS cases and is believed to be a bad influence,” the court order stated.

The judge adopted the county’s recommendations and added a provision barring the child from being left with Borders unsupervised.

In a September report, the guardian stated the child opened up to them about their feelings about Borders.

“(The child) indicated that (they) didn’t think Jorden was a good person. (The child) stated that Jorden Borders hit (them) and that (they) did not like to be left alone with Jorden,” the report stated. “(The child) showed this (guardian) approximately where and how Jorden reportedly hit (them), and said it hurt when (they) were hit by Jorden. (The child) said (they were) happy that (their) mom wasn’t going to leave (them) with Jorden anymore.”

The mother told the guardian her friendship with Borders had ended. The case was ultimately dismissed in March 2013. Documents associated with the 2022 child protection actions involving Borders’ and Badowicz’s children do not mention Borders’ link to this matter.

More reports, but contents unknown

Did anyone report concerns of child neglect or abuse by Borders or Badowicz during the decade between then and now? The answer to that question remains unclear.

Although some details of child protection intake reports and child maltreatment investigations were able to be determined through law enforcement documents, a majority of the reports intended to be introduced as exhibits in court last year remain confidential.

The Dispatch inquired with the Minnesota Judicial Branch about reviewing the exhibits, but a communications specialist reported the proposed exhibits were not considered part of the court record because they were never introduced or filed. The planned trial in the CHIPS case did not occur — Borders and Badowicz voluntarily agreed to the termination of their parental rights in early December 2022.

Because the reports are not available for review, the Dispatch was unable to determine whether any of the 18 child protection intake reports or three child maltreatment reports are associated with the third parent involved in the case — the father of the oldest child. None of the reviewed court documents reference any previous child protection involvement or concerns in relation to this parent, however.

A total of eight child protection intake reports featured dates occurring after 2012. Three of those between May and July 2022 were confirmed to be part of the torture investigation. The other five, however, are unknown and occurred on the following dates: Feb. 14, 2018; May 7, 2018; May 15, 2019; Oct. 19, 2021; and Feb. 2, 2022. The contents of three child maltreatment reports also remain unknown: Feb. 14, 2018; Feb. 16, 2018; and May 7, 2018.

No other incident complaint reports with law enforcement acquired by the Dispatch from area police departments describe possible child maltreatment, although two reports raised the prospect of animal neglect.

On July 25, 2014, a Crow Wing County sheriff’s deputy responded to the Crosby home once shared by Borders and Badowicz to assist an Animal Humane Society investigator with a malnourished dog at the location. Borders was listed as the registered owner of the dog, according to the report.

And just in December 2022, a Crosslake police officer filed a report describing concerns he observed about the couple’s dog while the sheriff’s office executed another search warrant on the property about two weeks after both were arrested.

“Officer checked on a dog chained to a dog house in the year. -7 below that morning. Dog did not have food and the water was frozen and there was no bedding or door on the dog house,” the report stated.

“Officer called (Badowicz) and he said the dog sleeps in the kennel in the insulated garage at night and he just put it out in the morning before they left. He said he fed the dog in the morning and will make sure it gets fresh water. He was also advised to make the dog house ‘legal’ and insulate it and put bedding and a door on it. He said he would take care of it.”

A deeper look at the system

When someone is worried about the welfare of a child in Minnesota, one step they may take is reporting that concern to their local social services agency. Although a number of state and federal laws serve as the framework for the child protection system, the work itself is done in a decentralized fashion spread across about 80 agencies overseen by county and tribal governments.

These local agencies are able to exercise some discretion in how they approach child protection work — whether families are screened in or screened out for various services, for example, or how invasive the response of social workers might be. Based on the seriousness of the allegations, agencies may be required by law to respond within 24 hours or up to five days.

Two pathways are available once a report is screened in: family assessment response or family investigation. A majority of reports are addressed through the family assessment response, which involves cooperation with the family in an effort to achieve better outcomes for all involved. Family investigations occur when an agency determines a child is in immediate or significant danger, or if a family refuses to take the steps necessary to ensure child safety.

Law enforcement officials or a judge may place children on holds for up to 72 hours if they have reason to believe they’re in danger, meaning counties remove them from the home temporarily. Sometimes this hold occurs at the request of social workers, and other times officers pursue a hold due to concerns or observations during the course of their work.

In any case, once this time limit is reached, social workers cannot unilaterally order the removal of a child or enforce requirements on a family. If families are unwilling to cooperate with what the agency believes is in the children’s best interests, only courts can take the next step to use the power of the judicial system to compel action.

In consultation with county attorneys’ offices, agencies decide whether to pursue court actions, such as petitions for a child in need of protection or services or termination of parental rights. This can include seeking out-of-home placements for children, ranging from foster care provided by relatives to facilities, depending on needs. And then counties must argue their cases in the courtroom.

A massive pile of documents produced by the Minnesota Department of Human Services containing guidelines and best practices lay out, in much more intricate detail, how child protection workers are expected to approach the job.

One of these documents — Minnesota Child Maltreatment Intake, Screening, and Response Path Guidelines — is consulted by Crow Wing County Community Services during its daily intake screening meetings, said Kara Griffin, division manager for children and families. More serious allegations or those involving imminent danger are screened on a 24/7 basis, no matter if it’s a weekend or the middle of the night.

These meetings involve a multidisciplinary team of social workers, a Community Services supervisor, public health, law enforcement officials, and sometimes staff from the county attorney’s office. Screening decisions are made collectively by the group, Griffin said, based on statute and DHS guidelines.

“We receive reports from community members, school, mental health providers — anyone can file an intake or a report,” Griffin said during an interview covering present-day practices of the agency.

When the screening team cannot come to an agreement on whether to screen in a challenging report, Griffin said they can seek assistance from the state through its Rapid Consultation System, in place since 2014.

“They’re available to us, as well as the county attorney, just to say, ‘Let’s talk through this statutorily,’” Griffin said. “We want to be respectful of parents’ rights and the people that we serve, their rights, as well as the health and safety of kids. And under the statute, they help us figure this out to make sure that we’re going on the right path.”

Intake reports have been on a steady rise in Crow Wing County in recent years. In 2015, the county recorded 1,203 child protection intakes, with another 779 reports concerning children’s mental health or child welfare. Child welfare includes truancy, minor parents, juvenile delinquency and general service requests. In 2022, the county took 1,752 child protection reports and 823 mental health or welfare reports.

Not all of these reports are screened in for services — in fact, more than three-quarters of reports are typically screened out by Crow Wing County. Based on data provided in annual child maltreatment reports compiled by the state human services department, Crow Wing consistently ranks among the highest screen-out rates of all agencies in Minnesota. In 2017 and 2020, it was No. 1. It came in at No. 3 in 2015, 2018 and 2019.

Griffin said this is a reflection of the sheer volume of reports her staff inputs, including everything involving children in any way. This could include a parent seeking resources for school struggles or depression, or it could include things like suspected physical abuse, neglect or parental substance use.

“Some counties simply enter in what they are screening or when they open a case, and everything else is just filed … but they’re not entering it,” Griffin said. “We enter in every single record, and we look at it as, it needs to be screened by our multidisciplinary team. We need to cross-reference it. Some people might argue that that’s an excessive use of a resource. However, we have determined that we think it’s best practice to make sure that every report we get, we’re entering it in as an intake.”

Griffin said for all screened-out reports, the agency makes some type of follow-up. Examples include referrals to a variety of resources like the Parent Support Outreach Program, contact with the child’s school, mental health services, emergency child care or respite services. Response could include a letter to the family explaining the circumstances did not meet the threshold for child protection, but the need for some kind of assistance was recognized.

“Usually, most of the time if a family is on our radar, there’s something that we can do to strengthen and provide protective factors,” Griffin said.

When it comes to screened-in cases, Griffin noted no single social worker makes major decisions on their own. Consultations with supervisors are built into the process along the way, she said. Quality control is part of the agency’s work, including monthly reviews of screening decisions and random case checks. The state also pulls intakes and screening decisions and provides feedback to the county.

Child protection laws on the books today are not the same as those governing the processes at the time of the most frequent contacts between Crow Wing County, Borders and Badowicz. In 2015, following reporting by the Star Tribune about the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean despite 15 reports of abuse filed on the boy’s behalf, the Minnesota Legislature approved increased funding and a multitude of changes designed to improve outcomes for children.

Among notable updates were modifications to the Maltreatment of Minors Act to require agencies to consider previous relevant history, including screened-out reports, when determining if a new maltreatment report will be screened in or out. The definition of “threatened injury” was expanded to include exposing a child to someone who previously subjected a child to, or failed to protect a child from, egregious harm. Exposure to someone found to be palpably unfit, or who has committed an act resulting in either involuntary termination of parental rights or involuntary transfer of permanent custody of a child, also falls under the definition.

Griffin said the change requiring previous history to be considered was a welcome one in Crow Wing County, where the practice was already underway informally. When it came to the courtroom, however, the agency was required to narrow its focus to the single report at issue before the law change.

“As much as you would like to think that statute and law makes sense, it doesn’t always,” Griffin said. “So it just made sense that you look at the family as a whole and the reports as a whole. And that’s actually why we’ve always encouraged people to report — when in doubt, report. … You just never know, if that’s the little piece that we needed for the actual puzzle to come together for us.”

For some with experience in the child protection system, a gulf appears to exist between the laws on the books and the on-the-ground reality.

Valarie Rockwell once served as a guardian ad litem in Minnesota, with her work primarily taking place in Aitkin, Cass and Crow Wing counties between 2010 and 2016. Guardians ad litem act independently of county social services and the court system, representing the interests of abused or neglected children in court proceedings.

While familiar with the details of some of Borders’ history with children, Rockwell declined to discuss them in her interview. Instead, she described the impressions she left the field with after more than five years of guardian work.

“What I found was, there are a lot of people in the system that are so well-intentioned and want to do the best they possibly can. They actually really care about the people in our system. … It was very refreshing,” Rockwell said. “ … Seeing the disconnect from what lawmakers think they’re accomplishing with a law versus how it actually plays out, was very eye-opening for me.”

Rockwell said the level of work expected of guardians within very tight timelines seemed challenging at times, with caseloads ranging from 30 to 80 children. Requirements to make face-to-face visits with the children could be almost physically impossible within 40 hours a week, like when Rockwell represented a child in Rochester and a child in International Falls at the same time.

“There weren’t enough guardians, or there wasn’t enough money in the budget to allow us to meet the demands that the state put on us as guardians. And that’s true for my experiences as a guardian — that’s my firsthand experience,” she said. “But I observed secondhand how social workers experienced the same thing. … It’s a system, and it’s going to have failings.

“So, I know I observed that there were times that social workers felt very strongly one way, but because of how the laws were applied or interpreted, they weren’t allowed to pursue what they believed maybe was in the best interests of the family or in the best interests of a child in the system.”

One factor in Rockwell’s view was statutory timelines requiring agencies to make a determination about permanency for a child — whether they could return home to live with their parents or guardians or whether the out-of-home placement would continue, possibly including adoption. Parents’ willingness to comply with case plans and get any help they needed with their own mental health or substance use disorders, for example, factor into such a decision.

This pressure was both a pro and a con, Rockwell said, and represented the dance officials must perform when weighing potential outcomes. If reunification is in the best interest of a family, the timelines force the system to react quickly. But if there’s an ongoing history of addiction or untreated mental illness, those same timelines don’t reflect how complex or lengthy recovery can be, she said.

“I can’t say that I saw kids stay in the system when the parents were making progress,” Rockwell said. “I can say, there were times occasionally where I felt, in my personal opinion, that we returned the kids inappropriately.”

Rockwell, who is also trained as a lawyer, said she recognizes the complicated legal nature of child protection, along with the need to ensure people’s rights are protected. The thought of the government taking away her own children based on scant evidence is troubling, she said. But some situations can demonstrate the tangled web in a stark fashion, like when a maltreatment report concerns one child alone, but others are known to be in the subject’s care.

“The system doesn’t have a great way to deal with that. If services are refused, then the county has to make a decision whether it has sufficient evidence to open a child protection case,” she said. “ … As a culture and as a society, we would rather have guilty people walking free than have innocent people locked up. And so our system has a high level of burden of proof for the county attorney’s office to be able to even open these cases.

“And, you know, that’s a legislative thing. That should be placed squarely on the shoulders of our Legislature. And so what you have is children who maybe have been in a very toxic environment for five, eight, 10 years, before there’s enough evidence to act on.”

Rockwell said she witnessed a lot of good done and many families helped in her time as a guardian. But there were misuses of the system, too, she said.

“Social work, at its heart, is about people. And laws can’t evaluate people like people can,” she said.

For more than two decades, Richard Gehrman worked in human services agencies in other parts of the country and Minnesota, before moving on to consulting work in child welfare metrics and best practices. He said he recognizes the pressures those working within the system face. But in the intervening years, he’s become ever more focused on what he believes is an imbalanced approach to child protection, leading to higher tolerance for behavior damaging the most vulnerable.

“When you’re in there in the system — and I spent 20, 25 years inside the system, you know — you're just struggling to keep afloat. So it's hard to really think about changing the whole philosophy,” Gehrman said during a Feb. 3 interview.

A change in philosophy is desperately needed in Gehrman’s view, however. He spent the last year conducting an in-depth study into the maltreatment deaths of Minnesota children occurring between 2014 and 2022. The founder and executive director of the nonprofit Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota said the goal of the study reflects the mission of his advocacy organization: to ensure the state has a child protection system in which children are safe and reach their full potential.

“Our hope is that the often distressing findings from this study will encourage those involved both directly and indirectly in child welfare to make appropriate changes in their own organizational spheres, and to help raise child welfare to a high level public policy concern,” the executive summary of the Feb. 1 report stated. “The primary — and ultimate — goal should be to timely protect children from dangerous abuse and neglect that jeopardizes their safety and well-being.”

Gehrman started Safe Passage in 2009. He said he believes child protection in Minnesota places oversized emphasis on the rights of parents and the goal of family preservation, at the expense of abused and neglected children.

Richard Gehrman
Richard Gehrman, founder and executive director of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota.

“The underlying issue in all of this is that people are bending over backwards in the system, and have been for the last 20 years, to be fair to parents,” Gehrman said during a Feb. 3 interview. “ … But in the process, we’ve lost track of doing justice to the children. The rights and the interests of the parents have gotten to have so much weight, that situations like this have become common, where we just let it go on and on and on. So we have to balance out justice for parents with justice for children.”

Documents associated with the 88 child maltreatment deaths to which Gehrman’s organization gained access reveal just how common it is for cases ending in tragedy to include an extensive history of prior child maltreatment reports. A total of 59 of the 88 cases featured a known Minnesota child protection history, and in 20 of those 59, no investigations by child protection agencies took place before the fatalities. The study argues an evaluation of case histories shows inappropriate use of the less invasive family assessment response, with some involving up to six separate family assessments.

“There may also have been previous maltreatment reports that were screened out, but neither court documents or county reports consistently recorded this information,” the report stated. “We believe it is self-evident that the repeated use of (family assessment) in chronically referred families is inconsistent with the policy that (family assessment) be used only in low-risk cases.”

About 60% of reports in the state are assigned to the family assessment track, and Gehrman believes that’s far too high. In the last six years for which data is available, Crow Wing County chose that path at a higher rate than the state average. When compared to other agencies in the state, however, it generally ranks in the middle of the pack.

There were at least 73 other Minnesota children who died because of maltreatment between January 2015 and April 2022, but the Minnesota Department of Human Services denied the organization’s request to release mortality review data.

While the Borders case did not end in death, Gehrman said he believed it shared many of the same hallmarks of other complex and chronic multi-type maltreatment cases. Fifteen of the 88 child fatality cases included signs of child torture and five unambiguously met the definition of torture across three different national and state standards, the report stated.

“It’s a pattern we see where there’s opportunity after chance after opportunity after chance for the parents to kind of get their act together. And child protection just keeps going along with it until it’s too late,” Gehrman said. “ … All these people had eyes on it. Any of them had enough information to do something, whatever is in their realm, and they kept missing the opportunities.”

Gehrman said more urgency is needed in cases involving infants and toddlers to prevent deep negative impacts on those children’s development and futures.

“Their brains are developing, their social skills are developing, their self-regulation, all the executive functions, which means being able to manage yourself. Those are all developing within the first 1,000 days, and the time frame of child protection is to give parents months and years to get their act together. Well, the two timelines don't match,” Gehrman said. “And the irony of it is, if we did much better work earlier on, you wouldn't have so many expensive out-of-home placements. But you know, kind of turning that around requires some upfront investment.”

The focus on family preservation isn’t wrong-headed in Gehrman’s view, but interventions should be happening early and often with a holistic approach, he said. Ensuring access to respite care, targeted in-home services and early learning scholarships are some of the ways, he said, along with taking the pressure of poverty off of people.

“There’s a lot of things that you can do to help families stay together,” Gehrman said. “ … There’s a lot of federal and state programs that people are eligible for and don’t get.”

Gehrman returned to the discussion of resources: the Legislature needs to provide more funding — not only for child protection, but for all of the preventative programming, too.

Dee Wilson, meanwhile, said more training is needed for social workers to help identify cases involving chronic multi-type maltreatment and especially child torture, given its infrequent occurrence. Wilson has more than 40 years of experience in child welfare, primarily in Washington state. He also served as director of the training and research institute at the University of Washington School of Social Work and as a director in Casey Family Program’s knowledge management unit. He also contributed to Gehrman’s study as a subject matter expert.

He said during the first three decades of his career, he never once saw a torture case. But they’ve become more frequent in his estimation, and because of unique characteristics distinctive from other types of neglect and abuse, remain difficult to detect.

The deliberate nature of torture means caregivers may inflict pain on children in less obvious ways or engage in bizarre punishments that don’t leave marks, such as locking them out of the house or withholding food or water. Torture victims tend to be school-aged children, he said, meaning they might be more aware of the potential consequences of disclosure to other adults. The caregivers often exaggerate the oppositional behavior of their children and child protection workers may give them the benefit of the doubt in situations when stories conflict.

“In retrospect, it seems like, how could they have missed this and so forth — but it’s hard to recognize things that you don't see very often and that you don't come into contact with,” Wilson said Feb. 3. “ … There’s a strong resistance to even admitting that it’s going on.”

Wilson incorporates sections on child torture into the trainings he conducts, but he said making people aware still isn’t enough — it also takes political and administrative will.

“You also have to have a way to approach it. You have to have a way to do something about it. And part of that involves the motivation to do something about it,” Wilson said. “ … You have to have a concern to do something about this form of maltreatment, and there hasn’t been enough public pressure. These agencies are very sensitive to public pressure, and when there isn’t public pressure from citizen advocates and people to do something about something, they just don’t, I mean, for the most part. Particularly if it’s costly and difficult.”

Wilson said there will always be reports screened out, and it’s likely most are done so appropriately. Taking away too many legal hurdles in the process could lead the pendulum to swing far in the other direction, making it easy for the government to hassle families. But screen-outs and the use of family assessment responses are also a way for agencies to manage workloads when there isn’t enough staff, he said.

He’s been there himself, taking part in the social services version of triage to prioritize cases with solid legal backing.

“There’s just too many families to deal with … so we’re going to have to have some solid allegation of mistreatment of a child before we're going to go out there and intervene in the family's life,” he said. “ … I was definitely a part of that system, and when I worked for them, I totally agreed with that, because we didn't have enough staff. We are not doing anyone any good if we take hundreds or thousands of cases that we can't do anything with. So part of the idea here is to find the most serious cases and focus attention on those.”

Working with families, weighing pros and cons, balancing the rights of parents with the rights of children — all of these tasks take time and resources, both of which are in short supply in the human services realm, all of those interviewed said.

When asked what she would change about the child protection system, Griffin didn’t hesitate: her answer was funding. The majority of child protection costs in Minnesota are borne by local taxpayers rather than by state or federal dollars, despite the fact the programming is mandated. A ballooning out-of-home placement budget served as a major driving factor behind increases in Crow Wing County’s tax levy in recent years. Those costs and the number of children placed outside the home have declined since, marking a seven-year low in the spring of 2022.

“We’re really fortunate that our commissioners identify that even though it’s mandated and not funded, we need to have adequate resources. We need to have solid practice, we need to retain our employees. They acknowledge that and they support that,” Griffin said. “The state needs to do the same. The state and the feds need to do the same. We should be funded at a greater level. There’s next to no funding for child protection for mandated programs.”

Not too long ago, however, all Crow Wing County departments were tasked each year with tightening their belts as the County Board embarked on an eight-year run between 2011-18 of flat or reduced levies. Rockwell said the levy reductions in those years put pressure on the system, and in her opinion, resulted in less preventative work and fewer screened-in reports.

Griffin said leaders of agencies in other counties regularly reach out to Crow Wing to learn about how it’s moved the needle in a positive direction, and they’re even more impressed when they learn about the zero percent increases for nearly a decade.

“They also have similar egregious harm cases: out-of-home placement, chemical dependency, domestic violence,” Griffin said. “ … So we did have — had zero percent for eight years. But other counties are facing the same (issues), because it really is a societal issue.”

Griffin does not share the view that a policy focus on family preservation is making children less safe. In fact, she said the only difference in how the county approaches its work today is increased mindfulness of timelines.

“We’re still following statute, we’re making sure that we’re doing reasonable efforts. As much as we can, prior to them coming into our door, we’re reaching out,” she said. “So the argument to that is, we’re actually doing more intervention with families. And so we’re getting to them further upstream.

“ … There are still going to be families that are not on our doorstep, or we’re not able to get them to engage in preservation efforts. And they’re ending up in more of that egregious reactive type of child protection. That’s just the reality.”

Griffin is no stranger to contemplating how cases involving devastating abuse or neglect of children continue to happen, despite so many well-meaning people who want nothing more than to help others thrive. It’s something that keeps her up at night, she said, and it’s one of the reasons child protection workers work really hard to support each other through the daily traumas of witnessing terrible things.

“What is going on in our society and our community, that these things are happening to our most vulnerable? To our kids? And that’s really, I think, where the focus needs to be,” she said. “As a community what are we doing to ask the questions, to care, to make connections with our neighbors, with our family members? … What is the system doing? What does the system need to do the best we can to protect kids?

“And with all that being said, kids will still be harmed. Kids will still die on our watch, or in our community. That is the reality, because we’re people and we’re complicated. And there’s not just one simple thing that we can do. We’re complicated.”

Timeline of events

July 21, 2007 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

July 26, 2007 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

Aug. 20, 2008 — Court awards joint legal and physical custody of Borders’ first child to her and the baby’s father.

Nov. 13, 2008 — The Brainerd Police Department cites Jorden and two others for underage consumption after responding to a loud party at her apartment.

Dec. 5, 2008 — Family members of Borders and her first child’s father visit the apartment she shares with her infant child, per a sworn affidavit. They find a mess, including garbage, rotten food, dirty diapers, cigarettes, medications and alcohol within reach of the baby.

Dec. 5, 2008 — Social services requests assistance from the sheriff’s office with a 72-hour hold on a 2-month-old failing to thrive. The baby, for whom Badowicz was a caretaker, was transported to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd.

Dec. 8, 2008 — Child protection intake report. The date coincides with a social services meeting described in an affidavit.

Dec. 16, 2008 — The Crosby Police Department assists Crow Wing County deputies with taking Badowicz’s child into protective custody. The department earlier received information from a county dispatcher reporting Badowicz left the Crow Wing County Community Services building with his child, despite a protective custody hold. A judge had issued an order for immediate custody of the child after Badowicz and the child’s mother failed to cooperate with social services, which escalated concerns about the child’s welfare.

Dec. 23, 2008 — Family members visit Borders’ apartment to drop off Christmas presents. Borders does not answer the door, but the child can be heard inside. The apartment manager helped them gain access. Borders is found asleep with the child wandering while the sliding glass door was open to a second-floor balcony, according to an affidavit.

Dec. 25, 2008 — Brainerd Police Department receives a report of drug paraphernalia found while in Borders’ apartment. The report was copied to social services.

Jan. 9, 2009 Borders and family members meet with social services, according to an affidavit. The agency states it will seek psychological testing and/or counseling, parenting classes and perform unannounced home visits.

Jan. 23, 2009 — The father of Borders’ first child learns she never took the baby for a 6-month checkup and the baby is six vaccinations behind schedule.

April 1, 2009 — Borders tells a family member that a dresser fell on her child and required stitches. According to an affidavit, this story was false.

April 24, 2009 — The father of Borders’ child seeks to amend the custody order, raising concerns about the child’s well-being.

May 14, 2009 — Court awards temporary sole physical custody of Borders’ child to the father.

July 22, 2009 — Court renews its award of sole physical custody and requires Borders to submit to certain assessments.

August 2009 — Badowicz’s child returns to his care.

July 13, 2010 — Borders is registered as a nursing assistant with the state of Minnesota.

May 4, 2010 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

Oct. 6, 2010 — Court renews its award of sole physical custody to the first child’s father and requires Borders to abstain from chemical/alcohol use.

April 15, 2011 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

May 25, 2011 — Court renews its award of sole physical custody to the first child's father and states Borders’ parenting time would graduate from supervised to unsupervised over a period of months. Borders is ordered to continue taking medications for certain mental health conditions.

June 7, 2011 — Brainerd police receive a report of possible child maltreatment involving Badowicz. Borders is listed as a mentioned party.

July 7, 2011 — Child protection intake report. Possibly connected to a report of Borders hitting Badowicz’s child in the head with a frying pan.

Aug. 18, 2011 — Brainerd police receive a report of possible child maltreatment involving Badowicz in southeast Brainerd. A resident reports witnessing a child being struck in the head.

Sept. 16, 2011 — The first child’s father files a motion asking Borders be limited to supervised visitation, raising concerns about failures to follow court orders. The father states Borders allowed Badowicz to drive the child while having a revoked driver’s license.

Nov. 9, 2011 — Crosby police receive a report of possible child neglect concerning Badowicz’s child. The complainant states the child is not allowed to eat at the dinner table and is often locked in his bedroom for hours at a time. An officer spoke with a school staff member, who knew of previous accusations but nothing verified.

Dec. 15, 2011 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

Feb. 27, 2012 — Child protection intake report. Unknown details.

Feb. 29, 2012 — Court awards sole legal and physical custody of Borders’ first child to the father. Borders’ parenting time is suspended and she is ordered to have no contact with the child.

March 20, 2012 — Court awards sole physical custody of Borders’ second child to the child’s father. Borders is awarded parenting time every third weekend, is required to undergo cognitive testing and have an updated psychological evaluation. There is evidence to suggest Borders rarely or never exercised her parenting time rights.

April 8, 2012 — Borders calls 911 to report the death of a 5-year-old Brainerd boy, who belonged to a friend of Borders. The mother later tells a guardian ad litem Borders spent the night with her infant child and checked the boy’s vitals before she left, due to the boy displaying signs of illness.

April 30, 2012 — Child protection intake report concerning the possible maltreatment of Badowicz’s child after the child missed three days of school and returned with a bruise on their head.

May 18, 2012 — Child protection intake report. Badowicz’s child tells a school staff member scrapes on their face were from Badowicz ripping them out of the truck. The school also reports the child often shows up wearing the same clothing and asks for more snacks often.

May 21, 2012 — Crosby police receive a report of a possible assault from Cuyuna Range Elementary School. The suspect named in the report is Borders.

May 21, 2012 — Borders picks up Badowicz’s child from a medical review as part of the child protection inquiry. While struggling to get the child into the vehicle, Borders punches the child in the head with a closed fist in front of a mandated reporter. Borders’ infant child, who grows up to be the oldest victim in the torture case, is in the backseat.

May 24, 2012 — Crow Wing County files a petition for a child in need of protection or services, or CHIPS, regarding Badowicz’s child. The child is placed in foster care.

May 29, 2012 — Badowicz enters a denial in the CHIPS case. The county requests the court to ensure Badowicz does not allow Borders to attend the child’s kindergarten graduation. The court grants the request.

June 5, 2012 — A judge issues an order granting Crow Wing County to take immediate custody of the younger sibling to the 5-year-old Brainerd boy who died in April under suspicious circumstances, while the death is under investigation.

June 21, 2012 — The court orders Badowicz’s child could be returned to Badowicz at the discretion of Crow Wing County upon conditions, including Borders not being allowed in the home. The court also orders Badowicz to complete and update a parenting psychological evaluation at the request of the guardian ad litem.

June 26, 2012 — During a pretrial hearing, Crow Wing County makes a motion to transfer physical custody of Badowicz’s child to relatives and allows Badowicz to maintain joint legal custody. The court grants this motion and orders Borders to have no contact with the child.

July 18, 2012 — The younger sibling of the dead 5-year-old Brainerd boy is returned to their mother’s care after an autopsy determines the boy died of natural causes.

July 31, 2012 — A guardian ad litem visits the sibling’s mother’s home and interrupts a visit between the mother and Borders. Borders hides from the guardian in a bedroom.

Aug. 2, 2012 — In a report, the guardian ad litem raises safety concerns about Borders’ proximity to the mother and child. Borders is known to the guardian.

Sept. 25, 2012 — The court orders no unsupervised contact between Borders and her friend’s younger child.

2013 — Cuyuna Regional Medical Center refers Borders’ third child — the oldest alleged torture victim — to Shriner’s Hospital for genetic testing for brittle bone disease. Records show the testing was never completed.

May 8, 2013 — Borders tells CRMC she has suffered 36 fractures herself because of brittle bone disease. No documentation supports this diagnosis.

Oct. 11, 2013 — Borders’ nursing assistant registration expires.

July 25, 2014 — Animal Humane Society responds to Badowicz and Borders’ Crosby home following a report of a malnourished dog. A sheriff’s deputy assists with making contact with Borders, the registered owner.

April 26, 2016 — During an appointment for her youngest child, Borders tells Children’s Minnesota hospital she suffered 57 fractures in her own life because of brittle bone disease. The hospital again refers Borders’ third child for genetic testing, and again there is no record of it being completed.

Dec. 15, 2016 — Borders and Badowicz obtain a marriage license in Weld County, Colorado, per a listing in the Greeley Tribune.

Feb. 14, 2018 — Child protection intake and child maltreatment reports. Details unknown.

Feb. 16, 2018 — Child maltreatment report. Details unknown.

May 7, 2018 — Child protection intake and child maltreatment reports. Details unknown.

May 15, 2019 — Child protection intake report. Details unknown.

May 2019 — At some point during the month, Borders’ fourth child, who eventually becomes the impetus for the county’s child maltreatment investigation leading to the torture charges, is hospitalized with the first major medical event in his record.

March 10, 2021 — The fourth child’s anemia is first found to be present. The boy was admitted to intensive care and eventually received a central catheter to receive nutrition.

April 9, 2021 — The child is discharged from the hospital.

October 2021 — The child presents at Children’s Minnesota as part of a planned admission for evaluation and observation. Borders later refuses to return.

Oct. 19, 2021 — Child protection intake report. Details unknown.

Oct. 25, 2021 — A primary care provider makes a referral to Crow Wing County for the child to receive personal care attendant services.

Feb. 2, 2022 — Child protection intake report. Details unknown.

May 3, 2022 — Child protection intake report. Details unknown.

May 5, 2022 — Child protection intake report, when Crow Wing County receives a report of the possible child maltreatment of Border’s fourth child after he is admitted to the hospital again.

May 9-15, 2022 — A medical review of the 9-year-old boy’s hospitalization details strong suspicions of medical child abuse.

May 11, 2022 — Crow Wing County files a motion for immediate custody of the boy. The boy is removed from his parents’ care at Children’s Minnesota, but Badowicz is allowed to stay in the room.

May 23, 2022 — A sheriff’s investigator receives the child protection intake report from Community Services.

May 26, 2022 — Community Services has in-person contact with the other two alleged torture victims, the 11-year-old boy and the 8-year-old girl. During the meeting, Borders is observed with a cellphone, but she later tells the sheriff’s office she doesn’t have one while deputies execute a search warrant.

June 14, 2022 — The 9-year-old is discharged from the hospital into a medically trained foster home.

June 30, 2022 — Borders and Badowicz undergo a parenting evaluation and both deny having other children.

July 13, 2022 — Crow Wing County files a motion for immediate custody of the 11-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl, who remained in the care of Borders and Badowicz under protective supervision at the time. The sheriff’s office files an application for a search warrant of the couple’s Crosslake home and a judge grants it.

July 15, 2022 — The sheriff’s office executes a search warrant at the Crosslake home. The two other children are moved to the same foster home as their brother and the court holds an emergency protective care hearing, granting the county’s motion.

July 17, 2022 — The 11-year-old boy tells his foster parents he thought he broke his arm. He’s brought to the emergency room, but an X-ray shows no break.

July 19, 2022 — Crow Wing County tells Borders and Badowicz they need to clean their home, which is found to be cluttered with medical equipment and leaves investigators questioning where the children slept.

July 27, 2022 — Child protection intake report. Details unknown.

Aug. 8, 2022 — The sheriff’s office applies for and is granted a search warrant to search Borders’ Facebook data beginning in November 2011. Found in the Facebook data is posts dating back to December 2012 featuring Borders’ children in casts, slings, bandages and wheelchairs. The investigator also finds information about charitable organizations from which Borders acquired money and gifts related to her children’s alleged medical conditions.

Sept. 13, 2022 — A Crow Wing County social worker sends Borders and Badowicz information for a specialized mental health provider in the Twin Cities metro area. Borders instead schedules an appointment with a local counselor in training, with no specialty in medical child abuse cases.

Oct. 27, 2022 — Borders and Badowicz visit their children under supervision. The 9-year-old boy tells his foster parents that Borders told him to say his ear hurt, while the 11-year-old boy says she whispered in their ears about saying they’re sick and missing their parents.

Nov. 3, 2022 — The 11-year-old boy repeats the disclosure about the whispering to a county social worker.

Nov. 21, 2022 — The three children are interviewed by the Family Advocacy Center after making new statements about alleged abuse perpetrated on them by Borders.

Nov. 23, 2022 — Police arrest Borders on six felony charges at her Crosslake home. Badowicz is also arrested after he first allegedly tries to conceal his wife’s whereabouts. The same night, the sheriff’s office files for another search warrant after Borders is seen carrying a cellphone inside the home. The judge signs the warrant and allows the office to execute it after hours, due to concerns about the cellphone being concealed again. The search results in recovering two cellphones.

Nov. 28, 2022 — Badowicz allegedly tells a sheriff’s investigator he doesn’t believe the children’s stories and believes Borders was “appropriately caring for all three children.”

Nov. 29, 2022 — Borders posts bond/bail.

Dec. 2, 2022 — Badowicz and Borders voluntarily agree to the termination of their parental rights.

Dec. 7, 2022 The Brainerd Police Department reopens its investigation into the April 2012 death of the 5-year-old boy of Borders’ friend, citing her connection to the case. The sheriff’s office applies for a search warrant to search Borders’ cellphones and Badowicz’s phone for a second time.

Dec. 8, 2022 — The sheriff’s office executes another search warrant at the home of Borders and Badowicz in search of corroborating evidence mentioned in the children’s disclosures of abuse. A Crosslake police officer notes a dog outside in subzero weather without frozen water and no food, along with no bedding or door on the doghouse.

Jan. 24, 2023 — Assistant County Attorney Janine LePage files a notice of intent to seek an aggravated sentence for Borders, because of the vulnerability of the victims due to their ages and the isolated nature of their residence, Borders’ violation of her position of authority and trust as their mother, and the presence of the children during the commission of crimes against their siblings.

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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