Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act was reintroduced in February
On Tuesday, at least 70 people – state representatives, community organizations, child protection allies, and directly impacted families – gathered for a virtual town hall to discuss legislation being produced that would limit child welfare actions against black families in Minnesota.
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act, which is moving in the state Legislature for the third time, “promotes the stability and security of African American families by preventing unnecessary removal of African American children from their homes and community.” Attendees were united in their mission to protect Black families and take action that would help get the bill passed.
“I want to call to arms the community,” said Thomas Berry of Black Civic Network, which helped organize the online event. “Because I believe it’s all of our duty to protect our children. Our community has to really follow this bill and push this bill forward. If we don’t have our children secured, we don’t have a future.”
Berry continued: “It’s on us, as African Americans or American descendants of enslavement, to make sure that our children are not only being taken care of right by us, but also, by the county, the state, and any other entity outside of our families,”
The effects the child welfare system has on the disintegration of the Black family is haunting and the entryway must be closed, advocates said at the meeting.
“The front door of child protection is too wide,” said Kelis Houston of Village Arms. Houston, who helped conceive of the bill along with legislators in both chambers, pointed out the lack of cultural competence, and the continued racial bias from mandated reporters that often mistake poverty for neglect, which leads to maltreatment allegations.
“Every school in the Minneapolis district over-reports African American children to child protection,” she said, noting she’d last looked at the data from 2017. “There was one school that didn’t, and the difference was there was an African American social worker at that school,” Houston said, pointing to the importance of representation. “Child protection should be reserved [for] if you believe or suspect the child is being abused only.”
A chorus of directly impacted families shared their stories of losing their kin or fighting to keep them. They discussed the barriers to foster care licensing, wrongful parental rights terminations, their children being placed with white foster care providers, the fact that federal funding for child welfare often goes to foster care services instead of family reunification, and more. There was not enough time to hear all of the various stories, so attendees were asked to simply say their name and that they’re fighting the battle.
“I’m Lakecia Gant and I’m fighting this battle,” said one grandmother trying to gain custody of her granddaughter.
The names continued and once they concluded, Alberder Gillespie, the moderator, ensured them solidarity. “We stand together, that’s how we win,” she said. “I want you all to be encouraged because it’s hard when you’re in a war like this.”
The Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act includes several key provisions aimed at making it harder to remove children from the homes of non-white parents. Recent data shows that Black children in Minnesota enter foster care at more than two times the rate of white children.
Child welfare systems would need to make what the bill refers to as “active efforts” to serve those families intact, or find and support relatives to assist in cases. The state would also have to hire six disproportionality specialists and begin a new cultural competency training program.
A pilot of the bill is currently being used in Hennepin County and all hands must be on deck to get it expanded statewide. Attendees were encouraged to tell their friends, family and network about the bill, and to contact their local officials. “We gotta tell the other people y’all. We gotta let the other people in the village know what’s happening, what’s really happening,” said Gillespie.
The bill was reintroduced in the House and Senate in mid-February. Its chief authors are all members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party: Rep. Esther Agbaje on the House side, and Sens. Bobby Jo Champion and Omar Fateh.
Note: This article was updated March 4, 2021 to reflect that the most recent version of this bill refers to “active efforts,” not “customized efforts,” for serving Black families, and was updated on March 5 to show more recent state data on foster care entries.