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House passes new requirements meant to keep kids out of child welfare system

The Minneapolis NAACP filed a federal civil rights complaint in March that alleges Minnesota’s child welfare system discriminates against Black children and their families, especially in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

Passed 120-0 Wednesday by the House, HF912/SF716*, as amended, seeks to address that problem.

Titled the “Minnesota African American Family Preservation and Child Welfare Disproportionality Act,” the bill now heads back to the Senate which passed its version 41-26 May 9.

The bill would establish requirements for how social services agencies and courts are to serve African American and other children disproportionately represented in the child protection system.

“The purpose of this bill is to keep Black families in Minnesota intact when they first come into contact with child protective services,“ said Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls), who sponsors the bill with Senate President Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls).

Agbaje said African American, Hispanic and children of two or more races are “two to seven times more likely than their white counterparts to be in and out of their homes.”

She said those families often find themselves at the mercy of a court system they know little about and are at a disadvantage when engaging with workers who may not understand their culture and community.

The bill would require responsible social services agencies to undertake “active efforts” to try and prevent out-of-home placements, such as working to locate the child’s noncustodial or non-adjudicated parent or relatives before or within 48 hours of a removal.

Other provisions in the bill include: 

  • declaring a preference for transfer of permanent legal and physical custody to a relative or noncustodial parent;
  • limiting the court’s ability to terminate parental rights for African American or other disproportionately represented children;
  • promoting stability and security by establishing minimum standards to prevent arbitrary and unnecessary removal of children from their families;
  • giving training in cultural competency to people working in the child welfare system; and
  • establishing a number of reporting, compliance and oversight requirements.

The new requirements would be implemented gradually with the Department of Human Services to first develop a program in Hennepin and Ramsey counties starting in 2024. The two counties would split a $5 million General Fund appropriation to pay for those efforts. Best practices learned during that implementation could then help guide the statewide rollout beginning in 2027.

An amendment offered by Agbaje that she said would make it “abundantly clear” the bill is not meant to infringe on sovereign rights of tribal nations was adopted.

Rep. Walter Hudson (R-Albertville) noted that anyone charged with a crime has the right to due process, to face their accuser and to have counsel.

“But with this process, with [child protective services] you’re often left to navigate it without the aids and the consequences are just as dire,” he said.

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