Child protection workers are removing black children from their homes at a disproportionate rate, said a group of DFL state lawmakers who aim to eliminate the disparity.
They proposed legislation intended to reduce the number of out-of-home placements and to keep children with family members when possible, instead of foster care or shelters.
“The most egregious thing government can do is to take your child away from you ... If you’re going to go in and take somebody’s child out, you should be absolutely, 100 percent sure that’s the right thing to do,” Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who authored the Senate bill, said Tuesday.
The measure is unlikely to progress this session, legislators admitted, as the deadline for initial bill hearings has passed and the GOP-controlled House and Senate have not shown interest in the proposal.
But they said they plan to continue to push for the change, and they hope at least a portion of their plan could move forward this year.
The bill would create an African American Child Well-Being Department within the Department of Human Services to look at the issues. The bill would also require local social service agencies to look for relatives who could care for the child before placing the child in foster care.
DeClara Tripp, of St. Paul, was one of several parents at a news conference Tuesday who told stories of having children taken from them. When her youngest child was removed from her care, Tripp asked that he be placed with family. Her request was denied, and he was put in a “culturally inappropriate placement,” she said. She has not yet been able to get him back.
“It’s very traumatizing. It’s emotional for me. And it’s a battle I know I can’t win by myself,” Tripp said.
The state tightened child protection laws in 2015, after the Star Tribune reported on the abuse and death of a 4-year-old and how the child protection system failed to prevent it. One of the changes allows only county attorneys to file petitions that would reunify a family, instead of a parent or guardian ad litem. Parents at the news conference said that makes it too difficult for them to get their children back.
Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said the task force that suggested the proposed changes also said funding and research were needed to address disparities in the child welfare system. Moran said this bill would do that.