Lawsuit Alleging Failure within State, Hennepin County Child Protection System Heads to Federal Court

January 05, 2018 08:00 PM

The Department of Human Services and Hennepin County are asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed against them, alleging the state and county's child protection program is systematically failing children.

The lawsuit, filed in May of 2017, details the accounts of 13 children in Hennepin County's child protection system and their troubling outcomes.


A federal judge will decide whether to dismiss the lawsuit that requests federal oversight for the two departments.

"We're a response system. We respond to demand," Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said.

RELATED: Attorney: Hennepin County Child Protection System Needs Overhaul

That demand continues to rise.

The number of child protection reports received by the county, maltreatment findings and the number of children in foster care have all doubled since 2009.

Hennepin County has hired a total of 350 new staff members, from social workers to attorneys, since 2015 in response to the dramatic increase.

Still, advocates are asking the federal government to now step in and take over.

"While certainly they have done things, the things they have done have not affected outcomes," said James Volling, a partner with the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. Volling represents the plaintiffs in this case.

DHS and Hennepin County are fighting to keep control as the county is only starting to shift to a new front-end focused proactive approach.

In court, Judge Paul Magnuson noted real change takes real time.

Magnuson's next move is to decide whether to dismiss the case.

"It's an incredibly important thing for society to do right by kids," Volling said. "We have an ongoing and deepening problem in our society and we've got to figure out a way to deal with it."

"If the folks on the other side of the table want to help us with the system, if they think they have better ideas, I welcome them to come to my oversight committee," Opat said.  "Ultimately, this problem is going to have to be solved by people across America. It's not going to be solved by any level of government."

Magnuson is taking Friday's oral arguments under advisement, but did not say when he would issue his decision.



Katherine Johnson

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