Fewer Minnesota kids need foster care, but racial gaps remain

Foster parent
Frank Martin Gill casts a shadow on the ground as he talks with his 6-year-old foster son in Miami in October 2013. Minnesota's number of foster children decreased in 2018 for the first time since 2010, according to a state report released this month.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images 2013

The number of Minnesota children who were removed from their homes and placed into foster care in 2018 is down — for the first time since 2010, a new state report shows. But racial disparities in foster care and parental substance abuse remain as persistent challenges to child welfare in Minnesota.

The 2018 out-of-home care and permanency report by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, released earlier this month, finds that the number of Minnesota children who entered foster care that year declined by 10 percent from 2017. The total number of children in the system also decreased to 16,488 from 16,593 in the previous year.

Lisa Bayley, acting assistant commissioner for children and families with the DHS, said while it's too soon to point to one factor behind the decrease, she believes increased attention to substance abuse in recent years has contributed to the improvement.

“Getting parents into treatment programs sooner and allowing them in some cases to actually remain with their children while they're in treatment is allowing us to prevent children from going out of home placement,” Bayley said.

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Among the total of 6,948 placement episodes in 2018, more than 30 percent were due to parental drug abuse, followed by alleged neglect and physical abuse as the primary reason for a child’s removal from their home.

Despite the decline in the number of foster children and children entering foster care, Bayley said parental substance abuse oftentimes causes their kids to remain in the system for months or years because “parents take longer to deal with those issues, and sometimes they relapse, which requires a child to go back and out of home placement.”

In addition, racial disparities in the number of children in out-of-home care persisted — Native American children and children of color in Minnesota were significantly more likely to be in foster care than white children in 2018.

Bayley calls the disproportionate numbers “unacceptable,” saying her agency is continuing to work on looking at prevention services in diverse communities across Minnesota. And a new program to provide quality training sessions for social workers kicks off this summer, called the Child Welfare Training Academy.

Bayley said she hopes the new training opportunity will help those social workers, “who are themselves strained almost beyond capacity. So all of those things together, we are hoping are going to address those issues.”

Use the audio player above to listen to the full interview with Lisa Bayley on All Things Considered.