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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Siblings in Minnesota's child welfare system

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The 2012 legislative session concluded with several changes to Minnesota child welfare policy. This has been covered extensively in past blog posts, but I thought the topic of sibling placement and separation was important to highlight.

New statutory language related to siblings involved in child welfare
Overall, the new statutory language indicates that keeping siblings together is preferred over the practice of breaking up siblings to expedite adoption, find foster homes quickly, or place with kin. The table below lists the changes I was able to find by doing a simple keyword search of "sibling" in the new law (Chapter 216 of the 2012 Regular Session). The Articles in which these statutes were found were

  • Article 1: Children & Families Policy Provisions and
  • Article 4: Child Protection.

In addition to this blog post, make sure to check out the Children's Law Center of Minnesota's Practice Point entitled "What Minnesota's New Legislative Changes Mean for Sibling Advocacy." The authors give some background regarding the importance of sibling relationships.

Connecticut has also recently enacted legislation related to preserving the sibling relationship. Check out this link to see what they're doing.

Action Statute Change Law (Ch. 216)
Amended 259.24 Consents
subd. 1 Exceptions
Removed statutory language related to 'separating siblings if it is in the best interests of the child.' Article 1, Section 8
Amended 260C.193 Dispositions; General Provisions
subd. 3 Best Interest of the Child in Foster Care or Residential Care
Two of the articles amend this statute:
  • Article 1 amends it to state that agencies must now determine if the benefits of separating siblings outweigh the benefits of maintaining sibling connections for each sibling.
  • Article 4 amends it to state that siblings should be placed together unless it is not in the best interests of siblings (previously it had read "a sibling"). The agency must have made reasonable efforts to do so (rather than simply "efforts"), and if the court is not satisfied with this, the court must (rather than "may") order the agency to make further reasonable efforts. Furthermore, the court is to order (rather than just "review") the agency to implement a plan for sibling visitation if siblings are not placed together.

Article 1, Section 14

Article 4, Section 13

New Statute 260C.605 Reasonable Efforts to Finalize an Adoption Reasonable efforts must include placing the child with siblings. If there is sibling separation, then the agency has to document its efforts to place siblings together and explain why they had to separate. Additionally, the agency can't stop trying to place siblings together for final adoption until the court says further efforts would be futile or it determines that placement together is not in the best interests of one of the siblings. Article 1, Section 28
New Statute 260C.607 Review of Progress Toward Adoption Notice of review hearings for finalizing adoptions must be given by the court to any foster or adopting parents of siblings of the child. It also states that the court must review the child's current out-of-home placement plan to ensure that the child's sibling visitation needs (if applicable) are being met. Article 1, Section 29
New Statute 260C.613 Social Services Agency as Commissioner's Agent Siblings must be placed together for adoption unless the court orders sibling separation after making findings under the new statute 260C.617 (see next item). Article 1, Section 32
New Statute 260C.617 Sibling Placement Emphasizes keeping siblings together for adoption, including the requirement that judges must communicate with one another regarding coordinated planning if proceedings are occurring in more than one county. The courts may order sibling separation if the agency has made reasonable efforts to keep siblings together and further efforts would significantly delay adoption for one or more of the siblings. Article 1, Section 34
New Statute 260C.619 Communication and Contact Agreements Contact agreements can be forged between an adopting parent and the parent/legal guardian of a sibling of the child or, if the sibling is an adult, the actual adult sibling. If the agreement is in a written court order, the agreement is enforceable. New statute 260C.635 states that the effect of adoption does not prohibit birth parents, relatives, or siblings and adoptive parents from entering such an agreement. Article 1, Section 35
New Statute 259A.10 Eligibility Requirements [under new Adoption Assistance statute] One factor in determining 'special needs' is when a child is a member in a sibling group being adopted at the same time by the same parent or when a child is being adopted by a parent who previously adopted a sibling for whom they receive adoption assistance. Article 3, Section 3
Amended 260C.007 Definitions Added subdivision 32 to define "sibling" as
one of two or more individuals who have one or both parents in common through blood, marriage, or adoption, including siblings as defined by the child's tribal code or custom.
Article 4, Section 6
Amended 260C.201 Dispositions; Children in Need of Portection or Services or Neglected and in Foster Care
subd. 2 Written Findings
Adds that in any order for dispositions authorized, there shall be written findings of fact that includes reasonable efforts the agency has made to place siblings together in the same home, or if siblings are not in the same home, whether the agency ensured visitation through visitation plans (provided it was in the best interests of the siblings under 260C.212). Article 4, Section 15
New statute 260C.515 Permanency Disposition Orders This section actually doesn't technically have new statutory language pertaining to keeping siblings together. It reorganizes existing statutory language and makes changes to long-term foster care (see this blog post for more on this). It still maintains that the courts can order permanent custody to the agency for kids in foster care if a child is the sibling of a child who has turned 12 years of age and the siblings have a significant positive relationship and are in the same home; it just does not say "long-term foster care." Article 4, Section 31

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