The public policy of Minnesota is to protect children whose health or welfare may be jeopardized by caregivers. This policy has been enacted into a comprehensive statutory structure governing child protection proceedings. Reporting laws allow or require the reporting of suspected child maltreatment to HSPHD. Included in the definition of maltreatment are such things as physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment, endangerment and neglect. Reports are assessed or investigated by HSPHD investigators. If it appears by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged behavior or condition is maltreatment as defined by the statute, an administrative finding of “maltreatment” will be made. Persons against whom a “maltreatment” finding has been made, have the right to an administrative appeal. We advise HSPHD on those appeals and represent the agency in some cases.
When there is a need to obtain court jurisdiction over a family in order to provide protective services, we file a petition in Juvenile Court alleging that the child is in need of protection or services (a CHIPS petition). From that point forward, attorneys in the division represent HSPHD-Child Protection in all court proceedings relating to the petition. Parents have the right to a trial on a CHIPS petition. If the petition is proven by clear and convincing evidence, the child is adjudicated CHIPS. Often, but not always, the children in these proceedings are placed into foster care. Numerous federal and state laws govern decisions relating to the funding and licensing of out-of-home placement. Attorneys in CPD provide advice to HSPHD on these laws and litigate negative licensing actions administratively.
By law, the primary goal of all child protection cases is to maintain or return a child to the family if it is safe and in the child’s best interests. To that end, HSPHD must provide “reasonable efforts” to families to either maintain the child in the home or reunify the child with the parent. The law allows parents a limited period of time in which to correct the conditions that made the out of home placement necessary. If the child cannot be returned to the care of a parent within 6 months (if a child is under 8) or 12 months (if a child is over 8), we file a permanency petition alleging either that parental rights should be terminated or that permanent legal and physical custody should be transferred to a relative or kin. For some children, neither termination nor transfer of custody is appropriate and the court will be asked to order that the child remain in long term foster care until the child is no longer a minor. We also represent HSPHD in those cases, which must be reviewed in court at least annually.
Again, parents have a right to a trial on the issue of permanency. All parents and children 10 and over have a right to be represented in these proceedings. Guardians ad Litem are appointed in all proceedings and they also are represented by counsel. As a result, permanency trials often involve multiple parties and attorneys along with complex evidentiary issues related to parental fitness and the child’s best interests. The Child Protection Division handles all of the appeals that arise from these cases. If parental rights are terminated, HSPHD must attempt to find an adoptive home for the child. We advise the agency on these cases and handle any contested adoptions.
Recently, the Child Protection Division has begun a joint project with HSPHD, SICED and the Minneapolis Public Schools to enhance Hennepin County’s efforts in the area of educational neglect. We hope to significantly improve the school attendance of children under 12 at 7 elementary schools this year.
Through the combined efforts of attorneys, paralegals and support staff, the Child Protection Division pursues the challenging goal of improving the safety and welfare of children in Hennepin County while ensuring that all parties are afforded due process and a just outcome.