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Parents testify in support of child welfare bill

A group of about 30 people pose for a photo in a government building. Most are standing, one is in a wheelchair, and one carries a sign that says "Black children matter."
Families and advocates gather after a Senate hearing (Photo courtesy of the African American Family Preservation Act at the State Capitol on Friday, March 15, 2024. (Photo courtesy of

Black families are fighting to keep their children from being unnecessarily placed in Child Protection Services. According to the Department of Human Services (DHS), Black children are three times more likely than white children to be reported to child protection, and up to seven times more likely to be removed once a call is reported.

A bill that could help is making its way through the State Legislature. First introduced eight years ago, the Minnesota African American Family​ Preservation and Child Welfare Disproportionality Act (SF716) is designed to prevent harm caused by unnecessarily removing African American children from their families. On March 15, parents and advocates gathered at the State Capitol once again to testify, sharing their experiences with Child Protection Services.

Mother Declara Tripp testified about a doctor visit that led to a child protection call, separating her and her son for what she says felt like a lifetime.

“My son suffered from a medical condition as a result of being premature. Following a doctor's visit, I was reported to child protection. The agency found no evidence of abuse against him or my other three children. Yet they removed him from my care. My home was assessed and found to be safe and stable to the standards that my other children remained in the home with me,” said Tripp.

Tripp says multiple family members fought to be considered as foster parents for her son, but were all ignored by the agency. She says as a result, her son was placed in several different foster homes where he suffered significant abuse and neglect. 

“My son was denied care from the agency, delaying medical procedures causing him to be diagnosed with Failure to Thrive [a condition where a child’s weight or rate of weight gain is significantly below that of other children of similar age and sex] and almost losing him in the care of the County,” said Tripp. “Throughout the process, I was forced to take multiple psych evaluations as the county suggested that my continuous fight for the return of my son was an indication of my mental illness. And African American workers that were not aligned with the county's positions were retaliated against and removed from my case. I was forced to represent myself.”

Tripp says it took four years to regain custody of her son. 

Latasha Bacon also testified at the Senate hearing. She says after picking up her children from daycare, she realized that something was wrong with her daughter. She says she took her to Children’s Hospital for a checkup, where the doctor discovered that the baby had suffered a broken leg. The doctor called child protection immediately. 

“I told them exactly what happened. But unfortunately, they informed me that they were removing my daughter because, as the custodial parent, I am legally responsible for providing adequate child care. Five days later, we went to our first court date, and they removed my son. I have no criminal record. I've never been in trouble, anytime. My children were placed in multiple foster homes where they were abused. I continuously reported the abuse, and it was ignored,” said Bacon.

Bacon says her children were left in the hands of racist caregivers, who have been recorded in a video screaming “white pride.” She says the current foster parent screening process resulted in the abuse of her children. Bacon says ultimately she received a call from a hospital ICU notifying her that her daughter had no brain activity and was pronounced dead. 

“If there were provisions in place like the African American Family Preservation Act, maybe she would still be alive today,” said Bacon.

Black foster children are the least likely to find permanent placement in a family and suffer more abuse the longer they are in foster care. SF716 would prohibit the State from placing Black children into foster care without evidence of abuse.  If passed, the bill would break down barriers facing aspiring Black foster care parents. 

In addition, the bill supports the prioritization of preventative efforts in resolving the need for an out-of-home placement of a child by local agencies. It expands visitation rights between a separated parent and child, grants a child (age 10 or older) and/or parent or guardian the right to file a petition for family reunification, and minimizes the wrongful termination of parental rights. 

Kelis Houston, founder of the organization Village Arms, says she tested the bill in Hennepin County in a three year pilot run. She says they were able to close 90% of cases for more than 200 families. Houston believes that – as with most systemic issues – preventive measures are the key to success. 

“We took our time to slow down and humanize those families,” said Houston. “Each time [the legislature] fails to act, the disparities increase in our families. For decades, the state of Minnesota has discriminated on the basis of race against Black families, particularly in Hennepin County and Ramsey County… And this discrimination is evident in the historic pervasive and ongoing overrepresentation of Black families in the child welfare system. Systemic racism exists at every decision point of the Child Protection process.”

Earlier this month, the children's advocacy group Children's Rights and the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the State of Minnesota, alleging its child protection agencies discriminate against Black families. 

“If the Minnesota legislature wants to effectively address the wellbeing needs of Black children and families, then it must act urgently to combat child welfare disparities,” said the Legislative and Policy Director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, Theodore Rose, at the Senate hearing. “It is impossible to overstate the level of hardship and trauma that our communities are experiencing around this issue. If the legislature wants communities to feel that that is working for them, then lawmakers must be intentional about eliminating the kinds of failures that lead to over-representation of Black children in child protection.”

The bill will have its next hearing in the House Children and Families Committee this Thursday at 8:30am. 


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