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Minnesota lawmakers push to reduce foster placement of African-American children

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Two Minnesota legislators reintroduced a bill Monday aimed at limiting out-of-home placements for African-American children and keep families involved in child protection cases together as much as possible. The so-called Minnesota African-American Family Preservation Act would also establish greater oversight when black children are moved to foster families.

Kelis Houston advocates on behalf of children in court as a guardian ad litem.

"If the cases we were discussing here were cases of actual abuse against children — physical, sexual or egregious harm — we would not be here," said Houston. "But we're here to argue that African-American children are being wrongfully removed from their homes."

Data from the Minnesota Department of Human Services show that African-American children and children who identify with two or more races are more likely than whites to be placed out of their homes. 

"The disparities in Minnesota's child protection system are alarming," said the department's Deputy Commissioner Claire Wilson.  "African-American children are more than three times more likely to experience out-of-home placement than white children." 

Wilson added the state agency is "committed" to do something about the disparities — together with lawmakers and others.

Minnesota juvenile courts data show that the number of "Child in Need of Protection or Services" cases involving African-American families has increased by more than 50 percent between 2013 and 2017.

Houston and others say too often, qualified relatives and black foster parents are overlooked as placement options for African-American children.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who sponsors the bill, said there are too many examples of black children raised in white foster homes who wind up losing their cultural identity.

"And they grew up in a process in which they didn't know who they were," said Hayden. "And subsequently, [they] had a lot of trouble dealing with society because they had no grounding."

Hayden and the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, introduced the bill last year, but it didn't advance.

Moran said the bill will get a hearing later this month. And she said she's hopeful that Republicans will support the proposal after they see the data and hear the stories from black parents who've lost their children.

"Often the narrative is the Republican complaint that government needs to get out of people's lives so that they can do what they need to do," said Moran. "In this instance, that is our narrative."