When people look at racial disparities in MN, they often hear about systemic racism – the systems, structures and policies that have lead us to where we are now - one of the worst places to live for African Americans.
To understand the systems in place that created and create such powerful momentum to grind down African American life in MN, you can look at the criminal justice system, you can look at the covenant system (which basically enacted Jim Crowism in the North, including in MN), you can look at lending practices, medical practices, education and much more.
And now, an important piece of legislation addresses another cause of devastation in African American families – systemic racism in the child welfare and child protection services (CPS) systems.
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act was introduced last session, and is back in this 2019 session. A few data points:
African Americans are 3 times more likely to be reported for the same offenses committed by whites - most of this happens from school personnel
Once reported they are almost 5 times more likely to be removed from the home than whites with similar offenses.
Whites are far more likely to receive services and support to keep their families together. In other words, resources are funneled toward keeping white families together but not black families
But statistics don't mean a ton – here's what it meant in real terms. This was testimony given at the HF342 hearing in the House 2/26.
A woman was locked out of her home with her twins. She waited on the stoop until someone got home. The children got slightly over-heated, when she was let in they cooled the children down, but CPS had been called. Her children were taken from her for two years.
At the same time, a white woman who received multiple DUI's only lost her children on the 3rd DUI (with the kids in the car) and only for 6 months. She had regular contact with the kids.
A professional in this field talked about seeing kids separated from their families after ONE positive urine analysis/drug test.
A grandmother spoke of her agony at not being given her grandchild, who is instead living with a white family (despite the fact that the caseworker found the child to be in a culturally inappropriate situation - for example the white family dressed the child as a monkey for Halloween - and recommended he be placed with the grandmother). This grandmother is foster-care licensed. She has been trying to get her grandchild for two years.
The stories went on and on. What is clear is there is enormous disparity in how people are treated throughout each step of the process – from reporting, to processing/evaluation, to placement, to reunification. To put it bluntly, we are doing things the worst possible way when it comes to African American families who are struggling with family stress, inflicting the trauma of family separation on a vulnerable population as they cope with life in MN.
One key point: The legislation does not pertain in cases of physical, sexual or other egregious abuse or neglect. This is not talking about subjecting kids to danger, it's about supporting families in staying together whenever possible and a holistic, culturally sensitive approach to family support.
The separation from a parent has been shown to be one of the most devastating psychological wounds a child can endure. It impacts the ability to form attachments, hold a job, create relationship, or trust. It is a primal wound that cuts to the core, according to a PHD who testified. Everything should be done (and in the case of white families often is done) to avoid it. The ROI for current CPS practices is something like -$9. It causes damage, and it causes expense as the child becomes an adult who struggles to overcome this trauma.
The African American Family Preservation Act: HF342 and SF730
Here's a run down on the basics of the bill, in lay-person speak, to the best of my understanding: The bill's stated purpose is to "prevent arbitrary and unnecessary removal of African American children from their families" by
1) changing law/procedure around assessment, temporary placement, permanent placement, and reunification as well as parental right termination.
2) Governing the conduct of both agencies and welfare workers who have not faced any penalty or consequences when lying or otherwise implementing bias about black families.
3) Creating two new entities, one within DHS (the African American Child Well-being Department), one independent (the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council).
4) Creating grants for agencies and groups strengthening African American families
5) Implementing African American Cultural Competency training for child welfare workers, supervisors, attorneys, juvi court judges, family court judges.
6) Ensuring that data around this issue will be collected and made available by Jan 2020
7) Increasing visitation rights
8) Appropriating funds for this initiative.
And here are the details for each point:
The agency must work with the child's family to create a 60-day in-home safety plan as a first step, prior to removal. This safety plan would incoroporate family and community support. Allegations of sexual or physical abuse, or 'egregious harm' exclude eligibility for this provision.
Out-of-home placement will not be ruled by the court unless local social service agencies made meaningful, family-based active efforts to preserve the family. This must preclude any out of home placement order.
Basically, clear risk has to be proven and it can't be something that can be solved with an in-home safety plan with a local social service agency
Temporary/foster placement: Prior to being placed in foster care/stranger care, social service agency must have made documented attempts to locate relatives and make arrangements. The agency must also assess the relative's ability to provide care. If unable to find such relative, the agency must provide a written report as to why relative care is not possible.
Qualified counsel: If an emergency removal hearing occurs, the court must appoint qualified counsel for the parent
TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS
Basically, termination cannot be based solely on the parent's failure to comply with case plan requirements. It can be a factor but not the only one.
Termination also cannot occur in cases that don't involve: Sexual abuse, egregious harm, murder, manslaughter, assault, prostitution and several other conditions. (I.e., it can't be neglect, truancy, chemical dependency etc. for termination of parental rights). Termination also can be appealed within 120 days of receiving the notice under this bill.
The bill allows the parent, the child (if 10 years old or older) a local social service agency or guardian ad litem to petition for reunification if parental rights are terminated.
The court can grant this petition if:
It's in the best interest of the child
The child has not been adopted
The parents corrected the problem
The parent is able to provide care
CONDUCT OF AGENCIES
Because there have been a lot of problems with caseworkers lying and implementing their bias, with no consequences, this section specifies that social agency employee can't lie about any case, can't withhold evidence or information, can't fabricate any documentation/evidence. It raises these actions to a felony with a sentence of not more than 2 years with a $4,000 (or less) fine.
The bill also says that if there is an allegation of mistreatment of an African American child, the agency will work with both the African American Child Well-Being Department and fully cooperate with the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council (see both of these below). Within 7 days of receiving or filing any such action.
If things progress and there may be adoptive or preadoptive placement, the agency will notify both these groups with registered mail, and no hearing can happen until 30 days after receipt.
Agencies not complying are subject to fines determined by commissioners.
CREATION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILD WELFARE OVERSIGHT COUNCIL
Lots of specifics about who will be on this, how it will run, but basically, it's to work closely and oversee agencies that deal in this area.
Monitor and collect data on placement
Monitor and review case plans by local agencies and ensure they're in compliance with this bill
Work with the African American Child Well-being Department (see below) to screen shelter and foster care situations
Develop and promote policy specific to this issue
Coordinate action around this issue among stakeholders
Start a public awareness campaign about racial disparities in out-of-home placement
Create partnerships to coordinate services that help preserve African American families (parent mentoring, housing and job assistance, parent education support)
Partner with local welfare agencies to make sure African Americans are working in these agencies in proportion to the communities served in the county
More specifics about what type of data they'd be consolidating, confidentiality and annual reporting
CREATION OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHILD WELL-BEING DEPARTMENT
This will be created within the Department of Human Services. There's a lot of language about how it will be set up/structured, but primary job will be:
Monitor the numbers state-wide
Oversee and consult on case plans to ensure cultural appropriate services that also comply with this bill
Intervene in involuntary adoptive or pre-adoptive proceedings if they're not in compliance
Screen shelter and foster care settings for cultural appropriate care
Coordinate services that support African American families and children
Report quarterly to the AACWOC (above)
Annual census of AA children residing in residential facilities statewide: Types of facilities, age and gender, how long they've been there, and other data
AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILD WELFARE GRANTS
Establishes direct grants to strengthen African American-led organizations that serve families and children. There's a bunch of language about what type of agency/initiative qualifies: placement prevention, reunification advocacy, family-based, reunification therapy, culturally specific individual and family counseling, court advocacy, training for county and private social service agencies re. the mission, other activities and services approved by the commissioner that are in line with the bill
This section also talked about who/what is NOT eligible for grants (residential facilities, foster care maintenance, and a whole bunch of others)
This would be handled through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process made to the commissioner.
AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURAL COMPETENCY TRAINING
This is for those working with African American families and children in the CPS system: child welfare workers, supervisors, attorneys, juvi court judges, family court judges.
Some language about who can do the training.
Basically, this will establish a process to make data about this issue available to stakeholders by January, 2020.
This modifies existing practices if an African American child is placed out of home to increase visitation to 3-5 hour/week until reunified, minimum one 2-hour weekly visit with a sibling or siblings if they're in separate situations.
This isn't fleshed out yet, it's about how much will be appropriated from the general fund.
HF342 full text
SF730 full text
Please submit corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org
Session at MNxMN2019, Beyond the Vote with Kelis Houston of NAACP MPLS and Natasha Phelps of Women's March Minnesota on racial disparities in the MN foster care system and why the proposed African American Family Preservation Act (HF342) is so important.
Further reading: Minnesota Wrestles with Foster Care’s Role in Breaking up Black Families
HOUSE SIDE: Last week in the house there was an introductory hearing, there will be a vote this week on 3/5, 2:30 in HHS committee (click to see members).
3/6 - The bill passed the HHS Committee, moves on to the House Government Operations Committee.
3/11/19 - The bill passed the Government Operations Committee, moves on to the House Judiciary Committee.
SENATE SIDE: It passed through one committee, on to the next. Members of judiciary committee.
Action items prepared in consultation with NAACP - thank you for your input and leadership on this issue!
Go ahead and contact your state rep and your state senator to ask if they're supporting (HF342 for state reps, SF730 for state senators). See who your state rep and state senator is here. Lets let both bodies (House and Senate) know there are a lot of eyes on this. Senate will be tougher b/c it's GOP controlled
Of particular importance, constituents of Mary Kiffmeyer (SD30), Michelle Benson (SD31), Jim Abeler (SD35) – please make a personal call or email. Info on these SDs and their contact below:
SD30: : Big Lake, Otsego, Albertville, St. Michael, Elk River, Hanover. Mary Kiffmeyer's contact info.
SD31: Zimmerman, St. Francis, Nowthen, Oak Grove, Bethel, East Bethel, Andover, Ham Lake, Marin Lake, Columbus. Michelle Benson's contact info.
SD35: Ramsey, Andover, Anoka, Coon Rapids. Jim Abeler's contact info.
Want to get detailed? See if your rep is on any of the committees that will be hearing this and email them: For info on committees/members/talking points see this post
*Important: Follow Kelis Houston with NAACP, who will be updating her page with information/hearings etc. so we can help pack the hearings.