MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Survivors of physical and sexual abuse claim the Minneapolis-area child protection system is among the worst in the country, unable to protect minors from widespread abuse and neglect.
Ten children said to be victims of child abuse or neglect filed a class-action lawsuit, through their adult representatives, against Hennepin County and county officials in Minneapolis federal court on Wednesday.
According to the complaint, Hennepin County has regularly failed to properly investigate reports alleging children have been abuse or neglected. The plaintiffs say the county also has not provided appropriate foster care placement or permanent homes for children who cannot return to their original homes.
“Hennepin County is failing to live up to its responsibilities, and defendants have long been aware that its child protection system has devolved into a confusing, underfunded, and erratic system that inflicts harm on the children it serves on a widespread and measurable basis,” the lawsuit states.
Nevertheless, Hennepin County has allegedly not improved or expanded its services to children still living at home in the past two years.
Instead, the county has increased the number of children who are removed from their homes and who are legally available for adoption, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs say neither the number of safe and appropriate shelter care and foster care placements nor the number of permanent adoptive homes has increased since 2015.
“Hennepin County’s child protection system is among the most deficient child protection systems in the nation,” their lawsuit states.
The children suing Hennepin County range from 4 to 14 years old, and allege the county employs an inadequate number of case workers and fails to provide adequate training.
The turnover rate among child protection case workers is also high, according to the 91-page suit.
Moreover, the county allegedly fails to investigate or even assess the “far too many” reports of alleged abuse.
Many of the investigations and assessments that are conducted are often not completed on time, according to the complaint, and placement of children is also problematic.
“When it is necessary to remove children from their homes, children often languish in an inadequate emergency shelter system and/or are placed in poorly managed and dangerous group homes or foster homes, and many children experience multiple destabilizing moves between foster homes,” the complaint states. “Many of the children who are returned to their homes from foster care are re-abused and re-enter the child protection system.”
Three siblings – T.M., 13, T.E., 9, and A.T., 4 – are all in the care of Hennepin County Department of Human Services and Public Health, and are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
In 2014, they came to the attention of the department after a caller reported that they had witnessed their mother stab their grandmother with a box cutter in her face and arms and pour gasoline on the floor while threatening to burn down the house, according to the complaint.
The day after the incident, the department received a report that T.M. had attempted suicide and that his mother had beaten him, the lawsuit states.
In response, the county made a finding of maltreatment against the mother, but did not remove the children from the home or file a child in need of protection, or CHIPS, petition. The case was instead transferred to a child protection field unit and was eventually closed.
Months later, according to the lawsuit, the Department of Human Services and Public Health received multiples report that T.M. had been punched in the face by his stepdad and had a large bruise above his eye, according to the lawsuit, but the problem wasn’t addressed.
“The case was closed almost immediately,” the complaint states. “The department ‘advised’ the mother that, if an additional incident happened, she would be held responsible, advised both the mother and stepfather on appropriate physical discipline, and referred the family for voluntary services through the Parent Support Outreach Program, a program run by DHS which provides voluntary services for families whose maltreatment cases were screened out but who have ‘factors that put children at potential risk.’”
Other reports received by the department allegedly said that T.M.’s mother had beaten him by hitting him in the face with a broken broomstick, and that T.E. had run away from home because her mother told her to leave.
“[One] call stated that the mother had instructed T.M. to pour buckets of hot and cold water over T.E. as punishment,” the lawsuit states. “The police who responded to the call noted that the home was unsanitary and filled with garbage.”
Since those incidents, the three siblings say they have been in and out of foster care and shelters.
T.M. is now temporarily staying with his grandparents and both A.T. and T.E. have returned to their mother on a trial home visit, despite concerns about her mental health.
The children say Hennepin County violated their constitutional and statutory rights by not conducting appropriate investigations of reported abuse and not developing a plan to allow them to safely return home.
The plaintiffs also claim the county violated their due-process rights and the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980.
They are represented by James Volling with Faegre Baker Daniels in Minneapolis.
Hennepin County did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.