Minnesota has a history of failing to protect children from repeated harm and of disproportionately separating families of color.

Legislators hope this year they laid the groundwork for long-term improvements to the child protection system.

"There's no system that is more important than this one. Kids deserve our very best; they deserve to be safe and thrive. And it is a complicated and really challenging system that poses difficult choices for everybody involved," said Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, who led the House effort to pass many of the measures. "Sorting through that is going to take time."

Much of what lawmakers approved this session will not result in immediate child protection changes. Instead, the legislation launches reviews that could lead the state to overhaul how it keeps kids safe.

Momentum to tackle the child safety issue grew after a Star Tribune investigation into Minnesota's county-based child protection system. The series examined problems with how workers screen maltreatment reports, inconsistencies in reviews when a child dies and persistent child protection workforce shortages.

Gov. Tim Walz said after the report that he would propose additional dollars to help counties hire child welfare workers. However, he shifted his funding focus this year to modernizing the clunky information system workers use for child protection cases and other social services. People in the field said the aging state technology eats up staff hours, preventing them from spending more time with families.

Here are some of the biggest child protection-related changes awaiting Walz's signature. A spokeswoman for the DFL governor said he intends to sign them into law.

Supreme Court Council on Child Protection and Maltreatment Prevention: The Legislature invited the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court to create a council of experts from a wide range of backgrounds, from someone who was involved with child protection as a kid to legal professionals to police.

"We welcome the Legislature's attention to and prioritization of this initiative for Minnesota's most vulnerable children," Justice Anne McKeig, who has specialized in child welfare issues, said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the committee to effect positive change for communities throughout Minnesota."

The council is supposed to review policies, data and research, and conduct surveys or focus groups. Its goal is to "develop a comprehensive blueprint for improvement that addresses all aspects of the child protection system, including prevention and early intervention." A final report is due Jan. 15, 2026.

Reviews of child deaths, serious injuries: New legislation mandates each county create a local child mortality review team, and the state must also assemble a review panel that will try to identify systemic changes. When a county determines that maltreatment contributed to a death or critical injury, it must flag the state panel within a few days. The state and local teams will do a joint review in some situations, including any case where the family has been involved with child protection in the past year.

Counties were already required to report situations where a child dies from maltreatment or has a near-fatal injury. But a Star Tribune survey of more than two dozen counties showed some places were failing to conduct reviews and others took years to do them. The reviews and reports are supposed to help improve the system and prevent future deaths and injuries.

African American Family Preservation Act: Lawmakers proposed versions of this package for years before passing the measure this session. It aims to end the longstanding pattern of African American children being disproportionately removed from their families and extends the new protections to all kids from backgrounds that are over-represented in the child protection system.

The legislation requires that social services agencies make "active efforts" to prevent the removal of children from their homes and says an agency shall reunify them with their families "as soon as practicable."

It bolsters cultural competency training for child protection workers and devotes grant money to services including family counseling, reunification therapy and court advocacy. Among other changes, it adds regulations to ensure more children end up with kin rather than in foster care.

$10 million to upgrade antiquated technology: As lawmakers discussed how to track child protection outcomes and ensure improvement, one issue came up again and again — the buggy and slow Social Services Information System, called SSIS, that child welfare workers use to manage information and services. It is also used to administer a range of other state services, such as waiver programs.

"We heard loud and clear throughout session [that SSIS] was a very large pain point for child welfare workers and many others who use the system," Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, said as the Senate took its final vote on a sweeping bill that bundled various child protection measures with education policies and spending.

Department of Human Services officials have said the approximately $10 million lawmakers are devoting this year is just a starting point. They have estimated roughly $80 million to $100 million will likely be necessary to fully overhaul the information system, but about half of the dollars are expected to come from a federal government match.

Studying a statewide maltreatment reporting system: County agencies run the child protection system, with state DHS oversight. Minnesota is one of nine states with a county-administered system.

Now the state will examine whether to centralize part of the work at the state level.

Tikki Brown, who will be first commissioner of a new state Department of Children, Youth, and Families that launches in July, is tasked with reviewing other states' reporting processes for maltreatment and assessing costs and benefits. She is then supposed to work with counties, tribes and other experts to recommend whether to shift to a statewide system for reports of child abuse and neglect. She needs to send her recommendations to lawmakers by June 1, 2025.