Child protection

The goal of the Child Protection Division is to protect children. The division represents the county Human Services and Public Health Department and the division argues more than 4,000 cases yearly in Juvenile Court and dozens more in administrative hearings. Through the efforts of attorneys, legal assistants and support staff, the division works to improve the safety and welfare of children while ensuring all participants receive due process and a just outcome that serves the children's best interests.

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Numerous laws have been enacted to protect Minnesota children from abuse or neglect by their parents or other caregivers. Any concerned citizen may report suspected maltreatment. Mandated reporters are certain professionals, such as doctors, teachers and therapists, who are required to report if they suspect physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, endangerment or neglect. Reports of abuse or neglect are referred to the county Human Services and Public Health Department for investigation.

When human services investigators conclude that maltreatment occurred, the parent or caregiver involved can appeal that determination. Throughout the investigation and any appeals, the division advises and often represents the county department and its investigators. The division also uses the information from investigations to file petitions to protect or remove children from unsafe homes.

When maltreatment of a child is found, the county Human Services and Public Health Department can often work with the family without going to court. However, in cases where the children need to be placed in foster care or the family is uncooperative with voluntary services, the Child Protection Division will file a CHIPS petition. 

The petition is filed in juvenile court and parents have the right to a trial on the petition. The parent and older children have a right to a lawyer. A guardian ad litem will be appointed to speak to the best interests of the child. The judge decides whether the child is a "child in need of protection or services" or CHIPS. If so, a case plan aimed at resolving the issues will be ordered by the court and it could include placing the child in foster care. There are regularly scheduled court appearances to update the judge on the progress in resolving the issues with the ultimate goal of ending the CHIPS designation and reuniting the family.

By law, the primary goal of all child protection cases is to keep a child with the family or return a child to the family if it is safe and in the child's best interests. If a child must be placed in foster care for his or her safety, the county's Human Services and Public Health Department works with the family in order that the child can be safely reunited with family. However, at the same time, the department is required to search for noncustodial parents or other relatives who can care for the child in the longer term.

Extended foster care is harmful to children, so the law requires that the foster care placement be reviewed at a permanency hearing after six months. If the parents have been visiting their child and making progress on their case plan, the Child in Need of Protection (CHIPS) case can continue another six months. If not, the division and department will prepare a permanency petition to remove the child permanently and that petition must be filed no later than 12 months after the child entered foster care.

Parents have a right to a trial in permanency cases. The parents and any child over 10 can be represented in the hearing and a representative for the child (guardian ad litem) is appointed. Child protection attorneys represent the county in the hearing. If the county attorney successfully proves the petition and the judge finds that termination of parental rights is in the child's best interest, the parents can be ordered to give up the child.  If parental rights are terminated, county human service staff attempt to find someone to adopt the child, starting with relatives and others with whom the child has a significant relationship.

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