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Addressing improvements and discussing strategies to better the foster care system, Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea will host one of four Children’s Justice Initiative regional meetings this spring in Mankato on May 1.
Launched in 2012, these meetings are for child protection professionals, judges, county attorneys, social services directors and others to develop strategies to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care and other out-of-home placement settings, and move children to permanent homes as quickly and safely as possible.
Jesson credited the 2012 meetings for the creation of Northstar Care for Children, which create incentives for permanent homes; increases in the percentage of foster children who are placed with relatives rather than in other out-of-home settings; and efforts to help victims of sex trafficking.
“Two years ago, these experts told us what we needed to do to improve foster children’s situations, and we listened,” said Jesson. “Beginning in January 2015, Northstar Care will provide the financial support families need—eliminating the financial disincentives for families that kept children in temporary foster care rather than enabling them to move to adoptive or permanent homes with relatives. With Northstar Care, we will reduce the number of children waiting for permanent families and shorten their length of time in foster care.”
In 2013, 39.4 percent of children in foster care were placed with relatives, reflecting a slight increase statewide over the previous two years. Between 2011 and 2013, Dodge County improved relative placements from 6.7 to 38.8 percent, Faribault/Martin Counties from 36.3 to 56.8 percent, Mower County from 22.2 to 40.5 percent, Nicollet County from 21.4 to 33.3 percent, Blue Earth County from 26.4 to 35.4 percent, and Le Sueur County from 22.2 to 29.4 percent.
“While our goal is always to return children safely home to their birth families, when that cannot happen, a familiar face, a well-known home, a loving relative may be best,” Jesson said.
According to Chief Justice Gildea, the Judicial Branch has stepped up efforts for timely finalizing of adoptions for children in foster care. “We have seen improvement in the numbers of finalized adoptions within 24 months of placement, which translates to faster permanency for these children,” she said.
In Minnesota in 2011, according to court records, 53 percent of adoptions of children under state guardianship were finalized within 24 months; in 2013, that number improved to 55 percent, almost 20 percentage points above the national average of 36.6 percent. In 2013 in the Third Judicial District, 70 percent of finalized adoptions were achieved within 24 months. For the Fifth Judicial District, 55 percent of finalized adoptions were achieved within 24 months. Gildea said, “These Judicial Districts are performing at or significantly above the state average, and far above the national standards.”
The Children Justice Initiative’s mission is to ensure that abused and neglected children involved in the juvenile protection court system have safe, stable, permanent families. Currently, more than 11,400 Minnesota children are in out-of-home placement, primarily foster homes in Minnesota.
Note: This is a working meeting for invited participants. Media who would like to arrange an interview should contact Martiga Lohn, DHS, at 651-431-2729 or Kyle Christopherson, Minnesota Judicial Branch, 651-297-4209.