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S.F. No. 730 - Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act; African American welfare oversight council creation and appropriation
 
Author: Senator Jeff Hayden
 
Prepared By: Patrick Hauswald, Senate Counsel (651/296-5079)
 
Date: February 27, 2019



 

S.F. No. 730 amends child protection laws and establishes a new oversight council and human services department to promote the stability and security of African American families by preventing arbitrary and unnecessary removal of African American children from their families, and by promoting and facilitating family reunification.

Section 1 (260.61) entitles the bill the “Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act.”

Section 2 (260.62) states the two purposes of the Act: (1) to protect the best interests of African American children; and (2) to promote stability and security for African American families by establishing minimum standards to prevent arbitrary and unnecessary removal proceedings.

Section 3 (260.63) defines the following terms: active efforts; African American child; best interests of the African American child; child placement proceeding; commissioner; family-based services; local social services agency; parent; relative; sexual abuse; and substantial child endangerment.

Section 4 (260.64) imposes a duty on local social services agencies to actively work to prevent out-of-home placements for African American children, to develop a 60-day in-home safety plan with the child’s family and community prior to removal, except in cases of abuse, and to reunify removed children with their families as soon as possible.

This section also prevents a court from ordering a removal unless the court finds that the social services agency has made active efforts to preserve the family according to the family’s specific needs. A court may order out-of-home or permanency placement for an African American child only upon clear and convincing evidence that multiple risk factors that cannot be resolved with an in-home safety plan are present. This restriction does not apply in cases involving sexual abuse, physical abuse, or egregious harm.

Section 5 (260.65) establishes requirements for temporary out-of-home placements of African American children.

Paragraph (a) requires the agency responsible for out-of-home placements to notify and track its efforts to notify a child’s relatives or noncustodial parent of the child’s need for a foster home before the child is placed in foster care or within 48 hours of a placement is prior notice is not possible. The agency must also provide the relatives with legal resources and inform them of the option to become a placement for the child and the possibility that the child will need a permanent placement.

Paragraph (b) requires the responsible agency to temporarily place a child with the child’s noncustodial parent, if the parent is determined to be capable of caring for the child.

Paragraph (c) requires the responsible agency to temporarily place the child with a selected relative upon the custodial parent’s request, if the relative is determined to be capable of caring for the child, and if the noncustodial parent is unwilling or incapable of caring for the child and placement with either parent would endanger the child’s health, safety, or welfare.

Paragraph (d) requires the responsible agency to grant a noncustodial parent or selected relative a reasonable time to remedy minor disqualifications from caring for the child.

Paragraph (e) requires the responsible agency to provide written findings of fact explaining why placement with a noncustodial parent or selected relative is not possible.

Section 6 (260.66) grants the right to legal representation to an African American parent whose child is the subject of an emergency removal hearing. A court must appoint an attorney from the public defender’s office to represent parents who meet the eligibility criteria.

Section 7 (260.67) establishes legal standards and procedures for termination of parental rights proceedings and child placement proceedings.

Subdivision 1 prohibits courts from terminating the rights of an African American parent based solely on the parent’s failure to complete case plan requirements, or based on proceedings that do not involve allegations of certain violent or sexual crimes. If possible, and if there is a need for continued out-of-home placement of a child, courts must grant custody to a fit and willing relative or third party.

Subdivision 2 allows a parent to appeal the decision to terminate parental rights.

Subdivision 3 exempts African American families from the statutory provisions restricting the right to petition for family reunification and expands the right to petition for family reunification to African American parents, African American children over the age of ten, a local social services agency, or a guardian ad litem, regardless of the age of the child or length of time in foster care. Parents who petition have the right to counsel. A court may grant a petition for reunification if reunification is in the child’s best interests, the child has not been adopted, the parent has corrected the conditions that led to termination of parental rights, and the parent is willing and able to care for the child.

Section 8 (260.68) makes it a felony offense for a social services agency employee to knowingly make false statements, withhold material information, or falsify documents related to a child in need of protection or services.

The responsible social services agency must notify the African American Child Well-Being Department of any report alleging maltreatment of an African American child within one week of receiving the report. The responsible agency must also provide the African American Child Well-Being Department and the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council with access to all relevant case files.

The responsible social services agency must also notify the African American Child Well-Being Department of any involuntary adoptive or pre-adoptive placement proceeding, and no proceeding may continue until 30 days after the department’s receipt of that notice. The African American Child Well-Being Department may receive up to 30 additional days to prepare for the hearing upon request. Adoption petitions must include proof of service upon the African American Child Well-Being Department in cases where the placement knows or has reason to believe the child is or may be an African American child.

The commissioner of human services must fine any agencies that fail to comply with these requirements.

Section 9 (260.69) establishes the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council to be appointed by the commissioner of human services and to include 15 African American members covering child welfare policy and social work professionals, community members and leaders, and African American parents representing all regions of the state. The council must meet at least eight times each year, and must discharge the following duties:

(1) monitor, collect, and distribute data on the number of African American children in out-of-home placement;

(2) monitor and review social services case plans to ensure that the plans address the unique needs of each family and comply with the Act;

(3) screen shelter and foster care settings to ensure that children receive adequate care;

(4) develop and promote policies and child protection laws that address the needs of African American families;

(5) coordinate stakeholder and agency efforts to improve child welfare outcomes for African American children and families;

(6) initiate a public awareness campaign regarding racial disparities in out-of-home placement;

(7) coordinate services and partnerships to provide housing assistance, employment assistance, and education support for African American families; and

(8) ensure that the number of African American child welfare county employees is proportionate to the number of African American families served.

The council is authorized to access and request various types of data necessary to discharge its duties. Those data remain confidential, except for data relating to involving a fatality or near fatality. Council proceedings and records are protected data, except that the commissioner may disclose the conclusions of a council meeting. The council must report to the legislature on its activities and other issues by January 1 of each year, beginning in 2020.

Section 10 (260.694) establishes an African American Child Well-Being Department within the Department of Human Services, including a director, deputy director, a personal secretary, and up to five full-time employees with expertise in child protection and related social, racial, and cultural disparities.

The department will be notified of child protection cases involving African American children and must monitor the number of African American children in out-of-home placements statewide. The department must also oversee, review, and consult on family case plans to ensure that the plans meet the unique needs of African American families, intervene in adoption or proadaptive placement proceedings involving African American children, screen shelter and foster care settings to ensure proper and adequate care is provided, and coordinate services to support African American children and families.

The department must report its activities quarterly to the African American Child Welfare Oversight Council.

Section 11 (260.695) establishes a grant program for the commissioner of human services to award grants to organizations, providers, and programs that are led by African American individuals and serve African American families by offering placement prevention and family reunification services, family-based services and reunification therapy, culturally specific counseling, court advocacy, training and consultation for counties and social services agencies regarding the Act, and other activities as authorized by the commissioner that advance the purposes of the Act. Grant recipients must receive input and support from the African American community.

Grant funding may not be used to provide child care, foster care maintenance payments, residential facility payments, adoption assistance payments, public assistance payments, or administrative costs for income maintenance staff.

Section 12 requires African American cultural competency training for child protection system workers, including child welfare workers, supervisors, attorneys, juvenile court judges, and family law judges. The commissioner must work with representatives of the African American community to develop the content and frequency of the training by January 1, 2020. The training must be provided by an African American individual knowledgeable in the matters, norms, and history of the community.

Section 13 directs the commissioner of human services to consult with representatives of the community to develop a method to disaggregate data relating to families of African descent, and to begin disaggregating data by January 1, 2020.

Section 14 directs the commissioner of human services to increase the amount of parental visitation with a child in out-of-home placement to three to five one-hour visits per week until reunification, and the amount of sibling visitation to at least one two-hour visit per week, if the siblings are in separate placements.

Section 15 appropriates ongoing funds to the commissioner of human services for administration of Sections 1 to 11 of this bill, which include the Act, oversight council, well-being department, and grant program.

 
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