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Racial disparities in child protection prompt Minnesota legislation, federal complaint

Jessie Van Berkel, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Layla Jackson never returned to her mother.

The cheerful, observant 17-month-old was murdered by her foster father in 2018.

Latasha Bacon said child protection workers should not have removed her daughter from her care after the girl returned from a babysitter's with a broken leg. Bacon, who is Black and Native American, is part of a movement demanding Minnesota rethink its child protection system that has disproportionately penalized families of color.

"Nobody wants to say, 'Racism is very much still alive.' Nobody wants to say that our system is broken," said Bacon, who mentors other parents involved with child protection. "A lot of these parents are being faulted for neglect for being broke and living below the poverty guidelines. Instead of being given the resources, they are just taking their kids away."

A Minnesota family's chances of being reported for child maltreatment varies dramatically depending on their race. So does the likelihood a kid will be removed from their family, or reunited with them down the road.

The Minneapolis branch of the NAACP recently filed a federal civil rights complaint saying discrimination in the child welfare system is devastating Black families, particularly in Hennepin and Ramsey counties.

 

Advocates are also pressing for action at the State Capitol, where they hope that after years of failed attempts, lawmakers will pass legislation this session to address unequal outcomes. The bill is named the Layla Jackson Law.

"African American families are coming into the system for less serious allegations than our Caucasian peers, yet we continue to face the most harsh and punitive outcomes," Kelis Houston, chairwoman of the local NAACP's child protection committee, recently told lawmakers. "What we're asking for today is for this state to stop harming our children."

Black American families are at the center of recent advocacy, but state data show gaping child protection disparities for many demographic groups. The differences are particularly stark for Native American families.

Native American kids are 16 times more likely to be removed from their families than white children in the state, according to the most recent state report on out-of-home placements. Kids who identify as two or more races are seven times more likely.

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