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Black children are disproportionately removed from their families: Minnesota lawmakers seek legislative fix

DeCarla Tripp, a Ramsey County mother, discusses what she called the unfair removal of one of her children from her custody during a news conference Tuesday, April 10, 2018 at the State Capitol in St. Paul in support of legislation that would create new oversight of child protective services and new protections for black families who are disproportionately in the system. Christopher Magan / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL—Black children in Minnesota are three times more likely to become involved with child protection and be removed from their homes than white children.

A group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota's child-protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved. Native American families and children face an even larger disparity.

To combat these inequities, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, are proposing the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act to improve oversight of the child-protection system and to provide better outcomes for black children and families who go through the system.

"Racial disparities in the child welfare system must be viewed as a call to action from all of us, regardless of race," Moran said at a Tuesday, April 10, news conference.

Why is it needed?

Moran and Hayden say state data shows black families are significantly more likely to become involved with child protection.

For instance:

• Black parents are three times more likely to have their children reported for child protection.

• Facing similar allegations, black parents are more likely to have their children removed from their homes than their white neighbors.

• More than half of child-protection cases involving black families are assigned to family investigations for "discretionary reasons," compared with 39 percent for white families.

• Black parents have their parental rights terminated more often than white parents.

• Black children are the least likely to be adopted.

"It's very traumatizing," said DeClara Tripp, a Ramsey County mother who says one of her four children was unjustly removed from her custody. "It's emotional for me. It's a battle I know I can't win by myself."

A Ramsey County spokesman said they do not typically comment on individual child-protection cases.

What would the bill do?

The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act would create a new council inside the state Department of Human Services to better oversee how black children and families are treated by child protective services.

The bill would require local officials to do their best to prevent the unnecessary removal of black children from their homes and promote family reunification.

In instances when children are removed, local agencies must work to place black children with other family members or provide evidence why they cannot be cared for by an extended family member.

The proposal also would make it harder to terminate parental rights and allow for parents to petition to have their families reunified when children are 10 or older.

What are the bill's chances?

The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act was introduced in both the House and Senate in March, but hasn't received the committee hearings it needs to come to the floor in either chamber for a vote.

"My friends in the GOP have not gravitated to this issue," Hayden said.

But Hayden added that part of the proposal that establishes an advisory council has been included in another child-protection bill.

Lawmakers could always try to attach the proposal to other legislation as an amendment, although it is unlikely such a tactic would win support from Republicans who have majorities in the House and Senate.

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