Investigating the story: How we did it
To report this story, Times staff writers David Unze and Kirsti Marohn combed hundreds of pages of court documents, law enforcement reports, Children in Need of Protection or Services (CHIPS) petitions and transcripts of police interviews with Dunham family members.
They interviewed employees of the Stearns County Attorney’s Office and Stearns County Human Services and an assistant commissioner at the Department of Human Services as well as two nonprofit organizations that license foster care families: Kindred Family Services (formerly PATH MN Inc.) and Children’s Home Society & Family Services of St. Paul. They also interviewed attorneys from Children’s Law Center in St. Paul, which provides legal representation to children who are wards of the state.
Some requests for information made to Stearns and Morrison counties and the state Department of Human Services were denied under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, including a record of foster and adoptive children placed in the Dunham home, the dates they were placed, which agency placed them and what information the agency relied on to decide that it was appropriate to place more children in the home.
The reporters made multiple attempts to contact Downey Side, the adoption agency that issued the Dunhams’ foster care licenses. Area director Nicole McGraw referred questions to state program manager Maureen McGuire. McGuire emailed a written response on Jan. 19, which stated data privacy laws prevent the agency from disclosing information about the case. Michael and Patricia Schaefer, who served as directors of Downey Side’s St. Cloud-area office when the Dunhams were licensed for foster care, declined requests for interviews, saying it would violate client confidentiality.
Finally, Unze and Marohn attempted through email and U.S. mail to contact Paul and Paula Dunham, who now live in Lithia, Fla. Their phone number is unlisted. On Nov. 12, Paul Dunham signed to acknowledge delivery of a registered letter from the Times informing them of the story and inviting them to contact the reporters who were prepared to travel to Florida to interview them. The Times sent a second registered letter outlining the findings that would be published and again requesting a chance to come to Florida to interview the Dunhams. It was signed for Jan. 17 by an adult son of the Dunhams. To date, there has been no response from the Dunhams.
To chronicle events, confirm details and represent Paula Dunham’s opinions, the reporters used statements made by Paula Dunham on her former blog, North of Reality, as well as her current blog, NaClH2O Times, and from numerous newspaper and television reports in which the family was quoted.