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Default approach shouldn’t be terminating parental rights, bill supporters say

Offering an alternative to terminating parental rights, expressing a preference for placement with family and keeping with best practices when children cannot be returned to their parents are the goals of HF3159.

Sponsored by Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL-St. Paul), it was approved, as amended, by the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday on a 10-7 party-line vote and sent to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee.

Minnesota is one of a few states which statutorily expresses a preference for termination of parental rights before considering other permanency options. This causes a procedural roadblock where lawyers must demonstrate termination of parental rights is not the best option, according to a summary of the proposal by the Institute to Transform Child Protection.

The bill would require preference be given to permanency options with relatives and would remove the presumption that a termination of parental rights is the first option for all children, thereby making transfer of custody and adoption equally valid options.

Courts could still terminate parental rights if it is deemed to in the best interests of the child.

A termination of parental rights permanently severs a child’s relationship with their parents and can also sever a child’s relationship with their friends, extended family members and their community, said Hannah Burton, former social worker and current law student at Hamline University. She said the bill would be consistent with research showing that placement with relatives provides better outcomes

Additionally, Burton claims the bill would address a racial difference. Current practice, she said disproportionally impacts children of color, who are more likely to see their parents’ rights terminated and are less likely to be adopted.


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