Hennepin County Sued for Low Quality Child Protective Services

The county is accused of failing to protect the rights of children.

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MINNEAPOLIS- Hennepin County was among the defendants in a recent lawsuit which holds that the county, and the child protection services it provides, are failing to protect the rights of children.

Two years ago Minnesotans were appalled by the maltreatment and death of four-year old, Eric Dean, due to the abuse of his stepmother. Legislation was drafted in order to give greater funding and oversight to child protective services, with the hope of preventing such a tragedy from happening again. The recent lawsuit may show that these efforts have not been entirely successful.

The plaintiffs of the case are representatives of the children, who believe that the children have been negatively affected by the actions of the defendants. Hennepin County is among a number of defendants included in the lawsuit.The Hennepin Dpt of Human Services and Public Health is also among a large list of government employees and entities included in the suit.

Interestingly, the lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, but rather seeks systemic reform to the child protection services, which it alleges violates the constitutional rights of children. The suit claims in particular that the constitution and federal law, “which vests vulnerable children with the right to be free from the risk of unnecessary harm,” is not currently being upheld by Hennepin County.  

The lawsuit also asserts,“it is the express and longstanding policy of the State of Minnesota, ‘to protect children whose health or welfare may be jeopardized through physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse.’”

In a 94 page document, the plaintiffs lay out ten instances where they believe Hennepin County has neglected the welfare of children.  One such case includes seven-year old girl, who was repeatedly abused over a three year period. The plaintiff contends that the case was never thoroughly investigated, despite red flags.

According to state data, in 2016, 18.3 percent of foster care children in Minnesota are returned to care within a year of being reunited with their families. This is compared to the federal benchmark of 8.3 percent. This data brings into doubt the effectiveness of Minnesota’s child protection institutions.

A workforce study done by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities indicates a huge problem facing the child protective services is case overload, leading to caseworkers not being able to devote the amount of time necessary to each case. Furthermore, 83 percent of child protection caseworkers in Minnesota reported experiencing secondary traumatic stress, while 45 percent have looked for new jobs in the past year. These findings indicate that the employees at the department may be underperforming for reasons other than pure negligence.

As the lawyer for the plaintiff stated in an interview with the Star Tribune, “We’re doing this to reform a system that we think is badly broken.”

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