By Lucinda Jesson and Edward McDonald
Black History Month is a time to celebrate and recognize the rich accomplishments of African Americans. Many of the 311,000 Black/African American Minnesotans, including 76,000 African immigrants, have contributed significantly to Minnesota through strong cultural diversity, business development, consumer spending, government revenue, employment opportunities and trade relations with African countries.
As we applaud the growing strength of African American communities during the month of February, we also encourage more families to adopt and provide foster care for children, especially the disproportionate number of African American children in the foster care system. One of the greatest memories an African American child, or any child can have, is the love and care of family.
Of the 467 children in the foster care system in need of adoptive families as of January 1 of this year, 140 (30 percent) are African American — a disproportionately large percentage compared to the number of African American children in Minnesota. And, unfortunately, African American children linger in the foster care system far longer.
Of those waiting as of January 1, African American children have waited on average 589 days since they were placed in the system, compared to 486 days on average for Caucasian children.
Children need families, and families who reflect the children awaiting homes can offer the richness of culture to children, the strong bond of community and the loving care they need to grow into happy, productive adults. We want children to benefit from these strengths to grow up in safe, healthy, nurturing families. But, we need your help to make that happen.
Of the 524 children adopted from the foster care system in 2012, only 95 (18 percent) were African American children. We urge families — particularly relatives — to consider adopting a child or sibling group.
The Council on Black Minnesotans and the Minnesota Department of Human Services are joining forces in 2014 to address this very serious issue in our state by rallying the communities to adopt more African American children. We want to ensure African American children are growing up in safe, loving, permanent homes. Please consider adopting a child or sibling group.
Take time to learn more about children available for adoption from the foster care system; visit the MN ADOPT, mnadopt.org, website or the Minnesota Department of Human Services website, mn.gov/dhs. Contact your county, private adoption agency or MN ADOPT about adoption training. Talk with adoption experts and adoptive parents about their experiences.
We will support families before, during and after adoption by providing training, referrals to professionals who can help and financial assistance to meet children’s special needs. With the implementation of Northstar Care for Children in January 2015, additional support will be available to families or relatives who adopt or accept permanent custody of children over age five from the foster care system.
We believe this will ultimately improve stability for children, increase the number of children who are adopted and reduce the length of time children are in foster care. We must do this, and we must do this now. We all want what’s best for children — to provide them with the love, support and stable homes they need to thrive and become healthy, productive adults.
Be a part of the solution to make our children, our families and our communities stronger. In doing so, we will have even more to celebrate during Black History Month next year.
Lucinda Jesson is Minnesota Department of Human Services commissioner and Edward McDonald is executive director of the Council on Black Minnesotans.