Minnesota faces complaint over alleged unfair treatment of Black children and families in its child welfare system

The Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP and Children’s Rights, an advocacy group, have filed a complaint with the US Department of Health and Human Services against Minnesota for allegedly discriminating against Black children and families in its child welfare system.

Minnesota’s “pattern and practice of utilizing federal funds to discriminatorily surveil and separate Black families, specifically in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, as detailed herein, clearly warrant investigation into the violations of Title VI and its implementing regulations,” the complaint, filed Monday, stated.

According to the complaint, Minnesota received more than $232 million in federal funding in 2020 for child protections agencies.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “provides that no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

“For far too long, forces within our government have worked to divide, and decimate Black families and communities. Let’s be clear - federal dollars should never be used as tools of discrimination,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a press release.

The NAACP and Children’s Rights allege that because the state’s child welfare agency receives federal funds, it is required to treat all families equally and not discriminate.

“Federally funded child welfare agencies are required under Title VI to provide non-discriminatory services when fulfilling their responsibilities of protecting the children and families they serve,” the complaint states.

The complaint stated that “Between 2019 and 2021, mandated reporters in schools, law enforcement, and social services, made a greater percentage of reports about Black children than white children across Minnesota and in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.”

Hennepin County is 69.9% White, according to the complaint, but in the last five years, Black children accounted for 53% of the report handled by the Department of Human Services.

“Black children were the subject of more than 35% of all reports which included neglect as the allegation type, while white children constituted less than 20% of those neglect reports,” the complaint stated.

In Ramsey County Black children comprised 41% to 46% of the reports made in the last five years, the complaint states, despite the county being 63.6% White, and “white children make up less than 35% of all reports” in the same years.

In Minnesota, “cases involving Black children are more likely to result in an investigation or assessment, as well as removal and family separation, than cases involving white children,” the complaint states.

When reached by CNN, the Minnesota Department of Human Services said the department is “working to strengthen the child protection system and address disparities” working alongside the local community. “We are committed to building on the strengths of communities and providing supports for families so they can raise children in safe, healthy, nurturing environments,” the Minnesota DHS statement said.

Addressing the specific complaint filed against the state, Minnesota’s DHS told CNN in a statement “We are reviewing the complaint submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. Out of respect to the possible investigation into this complaint, we are declining to comment further at this time.”

“Black children across Minnesota were two times more likely, and biracial or multiracial children were seven times more likely than White children to be removed and placed in a foster home,” the complaint stated, “Between 2019 and 2021, child welfare agencies removed Black children from their homes in Hennepin and Ramsey counties with a degree of disproportionality that outpaced state and national trends. Percentages of removals involving Black children during those years ranged from 33% to 38% in Hennepin County and 33% to 37% in Ramsey County compared to 14% to 15% statewide and 23% to 24% across the U.S.”

The result, the complaint states, is that “over the last three years, the disproportionate percentage of Black children who have been reported, who have been investigated from screened-in reports, and who have been removed from their homes, has remained relatively unchanged.”

“We placed the state of Minnesota on notice that we’re watching,” Johnson told CNN. He said it’s now up to HHS Office of Civil Rights to conduct a thorough investigation.

“The next step is to see how widespread it is, and what remedies should be put in place to protect the children and families from such harsh usage of federal dollars,” Johnson said.

Shereen White, Director of Advocacy and Policy at Children’s Rights said its time to end child separations based solely on the color of one’s skin.

“The nation has failed children. Every 2.5 minutes, a child in the U.S. is separated from their family and placed in the foster system, most often for reasons related to the color of their skin or the poverty they experience – not because they are hurting their kids,” White said in the release.

“The discriminatory use of ‘emergency removals’ and implementation of safety assessment tools is devastating Black families in Minnesota,” White added.

CNN has also reached out to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

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