Mille Lacs County - Beth Cook

Mille Lacs Community and Veteran’s Services Director Beth Crook briefs the county board on the DHS decision. Also pictured is Mille Lacs County Commissioner Dave Oslin.

Low Tribal placement percentages cause county to further increase its placement percentage

 Mille Lacs County learned this summer they were on the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) list of counties not meeting the minimum performance of 40.5 percent of foster children being placed in a permanent home within 12 months.

Mille Lacs County Community and Veteran’s Services Director Beth Crook highlighted at a county board work session on Sept. 17 the county’s placement percentages and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe’s placement percentages, noting that the county’s were well above the 40.5 percent threshold while the Tribal percentages were significantly below the threshold except in one category.

Because the Tribal placement percentages factor into the overall percentage for the county, this caused the DHS to target the county and call for improvement on the county’s percentages, explained Crook, adding that the county’s placements dropped slightly but were still well above the threshold.

The following data was provided by Mille Lacs County:

• Permanency-12 months County percentage: 50% (performance measure met)

• Permanency-12-23 months County percentage: 70% (performance measure met)

• Permanency-24 months County percentage: 50% (performance measure met)

• Permanency-12 months Tribal percentage: 20.5% (performance measure not met)

• Permanency-12-23 months Tribal percentage: 44.4% (performance measure met)

• Permanency-24 months Tribal percentage: 28.8% (performance measure not met)

Crook said at a county board work session on Sept. 17 that Mille Lacs County only has jurisdiction over children placed into foster care through Mille Lacs County District Court but has no jurisdiction or authority over children placed into foster care through Mille Lacs Tribal Court and that DHS is unfairly punishing the county for placements out of their control.

She added that the county is now required to go through a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to set a goal to increase the county’s percentage to compensate for the lower Tribal Court and Mille Lacs Tribal Family Services percentage of permanent placements.

Appeal filed

A claim for extenuating circumstances was filed by Mille Lacs County to the DHS on August 1, 2019. Part of the appeal by the county stated: “Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe has exclusive jurisdiction over children that reside or are domiciled on the trust land. Mille Lacs Band places children into foster care through Tribal Court 100 percent of the time. Mille Lacs Tribal Family Services is granted custody of Indian children and is responsible for their care while in foster care. If children reside in Mille Lacs County and as they are otherwise eligible for foster care, Mille Lacs County will be the County of Financial Responsibility; however, the placement is monitored by Tribal Family Services and Tribal Court. Mille Lacs County has no control over these foster care placements and the duration of these foster care placements.”

The claim was denied by the DHS.

DHS response

DHS Performance Management Manager Gary Mortensen in his email response to Crook said: “The point being highlighted in the EC (extenuating circumstances) denial letter is that Mille Lac[s] County does have tribal cases lowering the performance score, but the Council saw that the cases in the tribal courts were holding steady, while the cases in the state courts, under Mille [Lacs] County’s jurisdiction were dropping (meaning a lower percentage of children are being placed into permanent foster care within 12 months), which is a key factor in the drop in performance.”

He further stated to the county that if they increase their percentage of permanent placements, that “the performance of the tribal courts will not lead Mille Lac[s] County being below the threshold for this measure.”

The Mille Lacs Messenger reached out to the Minnesota Department of Human Services who returned the following statement: “The Performance Improvement Plan is a request for the county to review its work and look for opportunities to improve. We have identified a potential area for improvement on a measure the federal government uses to assess how well Minnesota does Child Safety and Permanency work. The county is accountable for all cases involving children under its jurisdiction, including tribal court cases.”

“If we were only measured on our placements, we would not have heard from them because we did meet the threshold for our placements,” said Crook. “They say that they acknowledged that we met it. But they’re denying it still.”

County administrator Pat Oman added, “We’re being nailed by association. We have control over our clients, but with children that are not in our oversight, we are being held responsible because of the Band’s deficiencies. We would like to help the Band and always have, but ultimately it’s DHS’s responsibility to invest money and time to make that happen. I think there will need to be something done legislatively. The DHS will have to change some structure. The Bands don’t get auditors or PIPS, but we do.”

Mille Lacs County was therefore required to implement a PIP on Sept. 5 and listed three “Systemic barriers outside county control”: 1) Federal Law ICWA grants Tribes exclusive jurisdiction over the foster care placement of Indian Children. Mille Lacs County has no control over Tribal placements made through Mille Lacs Band, therefore, no control over the number of placements and the length of placements. 2) Federal and state requirements for counties to be responsible for tracking/entering and paying for placements that are not under the county control. 3) Federal/state requirements that require timely permanency when barriers occur, for example, a teenager who refused permanency.

Also listed were three “Barriers within county control”: 1) High staff turnover requiring new training and education for MLCCVS (Mille Lacs County Community and Veterans Services), MLCAO (Mille Lacs County Attorney’s Office) and Court Administration. 2) Continuing court hearings delays process/permanency. 3) Jurisdictionaal relationships.

Possible strategies listed to improve performance continuing to meet the threshold on behalf of the county and that Mille Lacs County will encourage the Tribe to discharge children to permanency within 12 months.

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe declined to comment but stated they may address the issue of out-of-home placements with the Mille Lacs Messenger at a later date.

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