In Minnesota, Drug Use Now Tops Neglect as Reason for Removal to Foster Care

According to a new report on out-of-home care and permanency released by Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS), parental drug use was the number one reason children were removed from their homes in 2016.

A total of 27 percent of the children removed from their homes was due to parental drug use. This is the first year that substance abuse has overtaken basic neglect as the top reason for removals, human services deputy commissioner Chuck Johnson told MPR News.

Johnson told MPR it’s largely due to a resurgence of meth use, along with the opioid crisis hitting many communities.

Comparatively, neglect was the stated reason for 24.5 percent of children removed from their homes. Physical abuse was cited as the reason for 9.2 percent of removals, and caretaker mental health for 3.6 percent. In many cases, more than one reason is listed as cause for removal.

One driver of the uptick in drug-related removals may be removals at birth. There were 1,330 children with prenatal exposure to substances or alcohol in 2015, according to DHS’ 2016 maltreatment report, a 113 percent increase from 2012.

Increase in alleged victims of maltreatment with prenatal exposure from 2012 to 2016. Source: Minnesota’s Child Maltreatment Report, 2016

Minnesota’s Best Practice Guide for Responding to Prenatal Exposure outlines two different paths the state’s child welfare system can pursue when there’s concern that a woman may be using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.

“Unborn children are accepted for a child welfare (or similar) response rather than child protection,” the guide says.

Once a child has been born, the family enters a child protection track that includes a family assessment if there’s no indication of maltreatment, or a family investigation if maltreatment is a concern. Both assessments and investigations are involuntary, meaning the family must participate.

Families who undergo assessments are slightly more likely to have a second report filed within 12 months than families who undergo investigations, according to the state’s 2016 maltreatment report.

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Christie Renick
About Christie Renick 119 Articles
Tucson-based southwest editor and vice president of Fostering Media Connections. Reach her at or follow @christiejrenick.