The law now requires courts to appoint an attorney for all parents, even those who can’t afford it. It also allows those convicted of low-level crimes to be eligible for a foster care license. Childcare advocates say people of color too often are disqualified from fostering their grandchildren to convictions unrelated to child safety.
Tiffany Bui reports:
Child welfare advocates are celebrating key reforms passed by the state Legislature this week.
The law now requires courts appoint an attorney for all parents, even those who can’t afford it. Larene Randal Wade leads MN One Stop, which provides parents navigating the child protective system with a mentor. She’s seen firsthand how confusing and stressful the process can be for parents to figure out alone.
“I believe that having an effective parent representation there at the onset, when a parent is brought into court, is going to help tremendously because parents don’t even know their rights,” said Randal Wade.
According to a 2018 state report, American Indian children are 18 times more likely than white children to be removed from their homes and placed under the care of a social service agency. Black children are nearly three times as likely.
The new policies also allow those convicted of low-level crimes to be eligible for a foster care license. Joanna Woolman pushed for these changes as the director of the Institute to Transform Child Protection. She says people of color, many who were grandparents of a child in protective services, were disqualified from being able to foster due to convictions unrelated to child safety.
“What we’re doing is eliminating the unnecessary barriers that end up impacting our communities of color much more profoundly, because we know that the criminal justice system hits non-white individuals harder across the board,” said Woolman. “And that trickle-down, when we rely on our criminal convictions and the criminal justice system to make decisions about our foster care licensing – that same disparity exists.”
Advocates say the end goal is to keep children with their families as often as possible.
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