(May 31, 2017) A civil rights class action lawsuit has been filed in U.S. District Court against Hennepin County and several Hennepin County and State of Minnesota officials implementing its child protective system and the Minnesota Department of Human Services for its failures and actions that caused further harm to children under its care.
Read the lawsuit here: T.F. v Hennepin County
The lawsuit is known as T.F. v Hennepin County. According to the lawsuit, “Hennepin County is failing to live up to its responsibilities, and Defendants have long been aware that its child protection system has devolved into a confusing, underfunded, and erratic system that inflicts harm on the children it serves on a widespread and measurable basis.” (p.3) Research suggests that Hennepin County’s child protective system may be the most deficient in the nation.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of 10 minor children (p. 5-6). The lawsuit defends two classes of children “who are or will be the subject of reports of suspected child abuse or neglect made to Hennepin County, who are or will be under the protective supervision of, or in the custody of Hennepin County, or who are under the guardianship of the Commissioner of Human Services”.
The children are represented by Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, with a team headed by James L. Volling; Marcia Robinson Lowry, executive director A Better Childhood (ABC) a non-profit dedicated to reforming child welfare systems across the country and Eric Heckler, a New York civil rights litigator.
The sad stories of these children ages 4 to 14 years old are detailed in the lawsuit on pages 12-43. Several of the children have been physically harmed in foster care, all have been traumatized, and none of the children have been placed in a safe, permanent home.
The lawsuit alleges that the Hennepin County child protective system is failing children in the following ways:
- Failed to properly investigate reports of child abuse or neglect
- Failed to provide appropriate services to children and their families
- Failed to provide safe and appropriate foster care placements for children.
- When removed from homes, children often hang in limbo in shelter care or emergency shelters and/or poorly managed or dangerous group homes and foster homes. This is traumatic for children, and is destabilizing.
- Failed to provide safe, secure permanent homes for children who can’t be returned to their own homes
- Many children are returned to unsafe home environments where they are re-abused, and then re-enter the system. An even higher percentage of children re-enter foster care in Hennepin County after having been reunited with their parents. Research shows that in 2016, 16.2% of children re-entered foster care within 12 months of leaving, this re-entry rate is nearly double the federal standard, which is 8.3%.
- Hennepin County has failed to find permanent homes for children who are placed for adoption they linger in the system for years as wards of the state or age out of the system without ever have found permanent placement.
- Case workers lack adequate training or support needed to carry out their responsibilities. Further, case workers are assigned to caseloads in excess of national standards and do not have desks to which they are regularly assigned to work. Generally, morale is low and turnover is high.
- Hennepin County screens out or fails to properly investigate far too many reports of abuse or neglect of children.
- Investigation and assessments are incomplete or poor quality.
As a result of these failures, the lawsuit claims, the health, safety and well-being of children is endangered. Basically a child who is taken into state care faces a fate that is no better than the abuse and neglect they have been removed from.
Similar sentiments were echoed by CPS Whistleblower, Carlos Morales who is a former Texas CPS investigator. Morales says, “…in foster homes you have a way higher chance of being raped, molested, abused and killed than you do in an actual home where you are already being abused…what I found is that the situations we removed them from were not more helpful…” Morales is careful to note that not every foster home is bad and not every foster parent is bad but the system as a whole is failing children, and families. Morales says that financial incentives increase the odds of corruption occurring within CPS. Morales also says that incentives promote labeling children with psychiatric diagnosis and drugging them rather than offering any real understanding, support or care for the children.
In a troubling essay titled “I’m Guilty of Child Kidnapping for the State” Morales further elaborates: “I’m guilty of working for an organization that has hampered freedom throughout the United States, and has caused millions of parents to live in fear. I’m guilty of working for an agency that has done more to carry out the war on drugs than the war against child abuse. I’m guilty of working for an agency that has kidnapped children, thrown them in to foster homes, and destroyed their lives. I’m guilty of working for CPS. Within CPS, I did not help children, I hurt. I did not protect families, I helped ruin them. I did not work to benefit society, instead I helped imprison it.” I’m Guilty of Child Kidnapping for the State
The lawsuit asks the District Court to certify the case as a class action on behalf of the children and to find that the defendants have violated these children’s constitutional, federal and state law rights. Improvements to the child protection system are also offered in the request for relief (p. 88-91).
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