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April 08, 2013

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Thanks for sharing your analysis. You have captured so many important pieces here of where things went wrong. I have one thought to add.

Minnesota's permanency laws are actually stricter than the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act. ASFA requires a permanency hearing no later than 12 months after the child enters foster care, and initiation of a termination of parental rights petition after the child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months, except if not in the best interest of the child, or if the child is in the care of a relative. Minnesota has required a permanency hearing at 6 months for children under 8 for some time, and in 2012, that requirement was extended to all children. While the permanency hearing is intended to (among other things) ensure that social services is truly doing concurrent permanency planning for children so they are not lingering in care, the unintended consequence can be permanency moves forward when relatives have yet to fully participate in the process. The legal changes from 2012 also further emphasize early relative engagement, but a legal change does not change the practicalities involved in working with out of state relatives or relatives who are not privileged enough to be able to completely devote their time and energy to working with the system on being licensed, etc. Not to mentioned the personal emotional turmoil those relatives are likely feeling because the children are placed in foster care.

I believe the intention of the Minnesota law is to look at time through the eyes of a child -- 6 months is a long time, especially when you are young, but to be separated from your family for a lifetime is a much longer time. We need to think about how to stack the odds in favor of children for their whole life, and that involves continued, concentrated attention to placement with relatives, and when placement is not possible due to safety that cannot be mitigated, continued connection.

Peppy, thanks for the ASFA clarifications, and yes Minnesota recently changed the law - it used to be over 8 it was 12 months (it was changed last August and I forgot to include that).

And I agree with your thoughts - that the idea was to look at time through the eyes of a child. However it is so correct that the fast timelines don't give enough time to identify relatives (not to mention how difficult it is to really expect a parent to change behavior - if it's chemical abuse related or mental health - in 6 months or a year, but that's a whole separate post).

I appreciate your comments - thank you for adding your perspective.

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