Fewer children entering foster care system in Minnesota, those that are stay longer

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Fewer children are entering Minnesota’s child protection system, but those who do are spending more time in foster care, according to state reports released in mid-January.

The Department of Human Services released its annual Child Maltreatment Report and Out-of-Home Care and Permanency reports for 2018. 

There were 16,488 children who spent at least one day in foster care in 2018, according to the Out-of-Home Care and Permanency report. Of those, 6,741 kids entered the system that year.

“It’s first time in almost 10 years we've seen a reduction,” said Lisa Bayley, the acting assistant commissioner for children and family services. “We're modestly encouraged that there's some good news here.”

There was an increase, however, in the number of children whose cases continued into 2018 from previous years. 

“The length of time for out-of-home placement has gotten longer and is unacceptably too long,” said Bayley.

The median length of time a child spent in care grew from 175 days in 2013 to 345 days in 2018.

“Most foster care cases are due to neglect, and the great majority of that is due to parental substance abuse,” said Bayley.

Treatment can take time.

“Courts are more and more saying let’s wait longer and make sure the parent has a period of stability,” said Bayley. “That contributes to a longer time in out-of-home care, and that's a problem.”

The 2018 Child Maltreatment Report shows there was an increase in maltreatment reports that year.

There were 86,060, which is about a 2% increase from 2017.

“What that says to me is we've done a good job of training,” she said. “We've trained people that when we see something we need to report, go ahead and do that.”

The number of reports that resulted in an investigation or assessment went down slightly from 2017. According to the report, about 44% were “screened-in.”

Safe Passage for Children Executive Director Rich Gehrman said it’s an increase from five years ago, which is a good sign.

“These kids were churning, sometimes for years, before child protection reached out,” said Gehrman.

He said there is a need for more services and funding for child protection.

“We really should be doing more on prevention, so the abuse doesn't happen in the first place and early intervention where we just have a lot of support at the front end of the system,” he said.

Bayley told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are working on improving early intervention.

“We’re really trying to address the needs of the whole family,” she said. “If we can get the parents needs met, the brothers and sisters needs met, everybody's needs met we can keep the family together.”

She said they are also working to determine why there are racial disparities in the foster care system.

“The disparities in the number of African American and Native American children, proportionately, in out of home placement is appalling and totally unacceptable,” said Bayley. “The number of Native American children in out-of-home placement is 18 times more than white children. For African American children, it's three times more likely.”

Bayley said they are trying to secure grants to increase services for families and create more culturally sensitive prevention services.

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