Dozens voice concerns about Minnesota's child protection system at task force hearing

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For the first time in more than a year, state lawmakers met to talk about the child protection system on Friday. The Legislative Task Force on Child Protection hearing lasted more than four hours.

It was formed following the death of four-year-old Eric Dean and marked an overhaul in the way the state handles cases of possible abuse or neglect.

Several seats were still empty as the meeting got underway; lawmakers were coming and going as the hearing progressed.

The hearing focused on how to prevent kids from being taken from their parents. They also acknowledged work needs to be done to keep children with family members more often once they enter foster care, especially among communities of color.

State leaders acknowledge racial imbalance in child protection system

Parents pleaded with lawmakers to create more accountability and oversight of cases. Dozens of people showed support for the African American Family Preservation Act, which failed to pass in the last legislative session.

Annual reports released recently show that in 2018, African American children were nearly three times more likely than white children to be placed in foster care and about three times more likely to be involved in a completed maltreatment report.

“Those numbers are unacceptable and must be addressed,” said Lisa Bayley, the acting assistant commissioner for children and family services.

She presented about a dozen ideas to improve the statistics, including strengthening the legal requirements to remove a child and improving access for quality legal representation for parents. She also proposed contracting with community-based agencies in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties that work with African American families for family preservation, family-relative engagement and reunification services.

Hennepin County sees progress after child protection reforms

“I think the support for the community-based agencies is something that we see really could have a large impact relatively quickly,” said Bayley.

Task Force Chair Rep. Rena Moran said, “My hope is that we can also take this out to the community and engage the community with some of their priorities.”

The Department of Human Services (DHS) said it's also working to get new federal funding available, which has to be used for substance use prevention, mental health treatment and programs that can keep children with their parents or relatives.