They say it reflects a divide between the county and their way of life.
Hundreds from the Somali community packed courthouse hallways Wednesday to protest Hennepin County's handling of a child protection investigation that led to six children being removed from their family home.
About 200 people showed up in solidarity with Dahabo Hussein Hassan and her husband, Bulale Mohamed Ali, contending that allegations of physical abuse were false and that the children had been seized as a result of "culture clash" and improper communication between the county and the parents.
"The majority of people are here because of the way this situation was dealt with," said Hassan Mohamud, an imam and community leader. "The parents were never given an opportunity to know the system, and the way the children were removed without notice and warning, and in an improper way, is of concern to the community."
Other parents, community leaders said, are fearful that their children could be next.
But during Wednesday's hearing, Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Karin Chedister said the family shunned repeated attempts by child protection services to visit and assist them.
The couple's children, ages 16 to 6, were placed in an emergency shelter Monday after a 16-year-old girl reported that she had been physically abused. The child protection petition said her claims were consistent with injuries including a black eye and scratches to her arm. Three younger siblings backed their sister's story that all of the children were physically abused; an 11-year-old also had a mark on her arm.
In multiple interviews since the first complaint in March, Hassan and Ali denied hitting the children.
According to the petition, Hassan admitted that she might have occasionally slapped the girl in the face. She said she has a "standing order" with her two oldest children to keep her daughter, whom she said frequently runs away, from leaving the home. On May 17, after at least two previous county visits to the home, Hassan allegedly refused to speak with child protection officials and told them to contact her attorney. The children were removed less than three weeks later. Chedister asked Wednesday that all of the children remain in protective custody
The parents' attorney, Dokor Dejvongsa, countered that requests made late last month for the county to provide a parenting plan had gone unheeded. Dejvongsa said the children were traumatized by the abrupt removal from their schools and placement in non-Somali shelters and want to return to their parents. Petra Dieperink, an attorney representing a 15-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl, said both claimed their sister's allegations were false and that they wanted to return home. The 16-year-old who made the allegations had since run from the shelter and not returned.
Judge Kathryn Quaintance allowed the older children to return home to their parents with conditions, while three other children, ages 9, 7 and 6, will be placed with relatives. Quaintance said she would determine a placement for the youngest, a 4-year-old girl, after a physical exam.
A contested hearing at which members of the Somali community may testify is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
While most of those who came to the courthouse on Wednesday vehemently said they believed the allegations were untrue, others like Mohamud said the family's plight highlighted the need for improved communication. Community leader Abdirizak Bihi said the case isn't the first of its kind. He recently advocated for a mother whose two young children were temporarily removed from their home after they were hospitalized because their mother missed some doctor's appointments.
"There's a language barrier, a cultural barrier," he said. "These cases are getting more and more common, and these are things that need to be dealt with."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921