With the number of American Indian children in Minnesota foster care reaching “unacceptable” levels, the state pledged Thursday to spend $400,000 over the next three years to reduce those numbers.

The announcement comes after a Star Tribune report found that Minnesota has more Indian children in foster care than any other state, including those with significantly larger Indian populations. Less than 2 percent of children in Minnesota are Indian, but they make up nearly a quarter of the state’s foster care population — a disparity that is more than double the next-highest state.

The latest data shows Indian children make up about 20 percent of the state’s foster care population, the Department of Human Services said.

“This disparity in outcomes for Minnesota children is unacceptable,” DHS Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper said in a statement Thursday.

Once taken from their families, Indian children generally fare worse than other children, according to a Star Tribune analysis. They stay longer in foster care, move among more homes and cycle more often between foster care and their birth families. Children who turn 18 while in foster care and “age out” of the system are less likely to graduate from college and find a job. One in four will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. One in five will become homeless.

DHS and the University of Minnesota Duluth teamed up to create a pilot project that in the first year will research the causes of why so many Indian children are being removed from their homes in St. Louis County, said Jim Koppel, assistant commissioner for Children and Family Services for DHS.

Using those lessons, the second year will see the university and DHS implement training for child protection workers to better respond to Indian families, and the third year will be spent measuring those results.

Koppel said a similar program implemented from 2000-2010 saw a significant reduction in the percentage of African-American children placed into foster care.

DHS had been trying to implement a program for Indian children for the past two years, Koppel said, and the newspaper’s reports bolstered those efforts.

“The stories certainly gave us permission,” Koppel said. “It lent credibility and energy to getting it done.”