New program will better serve low- and medium-risk children and their families


Last week’s column described the work of the Police Community Relations Council (PCRC) and the Unity Community Mediation Team over the past five-plus years, and our efforts to address the problem of out-of-home placements of our children. This week I want to describe the pilot project that has grown from these efforts.

We are helping the community rise to the top by creating a new alternative: focusing on the 72-hour hold, which will decrease the length of time those of our children who are low-risk will have to stay in foster care/out-of-home placement.

The plan we are studying is a replica of the Allegheny County Pilot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which is a huge success. We are especially focusing on having the South Side (OHP) Safe Haven Site located as close to Sabathani Community Center as possible, which makes perfect sense because Sabathani is located in the heart and soul of the community.

Almost everything we need to support this pilot is already in place at AWMIN, Sabathani, and the Metropolitan District Baptist Church Association. If there are additional needs for this pilot within the next four years, Art Serotoff, Sandra Richard from Sabathani and I presented a long-range plan to Rev. Gaither Robinson, Mr. Ernest Johnson, and the team that will support the South Side (OHP) Safe Haven pilot from 2009 through 2013.

Presently we have visited a site that is located at 4019 2nd Avenue South in Minneapolis that will house at least six low- and medium-risk children at one time. Summaries and flow charts showing how we will work with the whole family to make this program a success were included in over 150 packets sent to all agencies involved and concerned about the welfare of our children here in Minneapolis.

Our goal is to service 50 African American families with the support of licensed shelter and foster parents through our churches and community, which will still come under the guidelines of Hennepin County (Rule 2960). However, this alternative process will be less expensive for the out-of-home placement program in the long run.

A note to the community: We will not discriminate based on race, religion or creed, but the disparities of African American children are currently much more overwhelming than those of any other race.

Now your question to me should be: How will this pilot decrease expenses for the County? My answer: simply because licensed shelter parents and foster parents already in place will be allowed to keep and nurture these children for the duration of their stay until our work with the families is completed.

If everything goes according to plan, those children will be reunited with Mom or Dad or both, and these low-risk cases will never have to be transported from First Response to St. Joseph to a shelter or foster home or group facility. That is entirely too traumatic for all of these children, especially young infants and children up to age 12.

This process will free Child Protection to focus on the “high-risk cases” and use those excess funds for the quality care that’s needed in those departments. Our goal is to lobby with Child Protection to encourage the legislature to restore funding to all of the areas that were cut, such as mental health, to ensure that our children placed as “high risk” will continue to receive the quality care that is needed until we can find placement, reunification or adoption.

Program participants included Zachary Metoyer (co-chair, UCMT/PCRC), Rev. Gaither Robinson (moderator, president of Baptist Pastor’s Conference), Rev. Arthur Agnew, (pastor, Bethesda Baptist Church), MPD Capt. Lawrence Doyle (PCRC Compliance), MPD Lt. Gwen Gunter (family violence specialist), Honorable Chief Judge James Swenson (Henn. County Dist. Family Court), Honorable Judge Mark Wernick (Henn. County Dist. Criminal Court), Honorable Judge Lucy Weiland (co-chair, OOHP Work Group, Juvenile Court), Patty Moses (Henn. County Attorney, Juvenile Court), and Lisa Kristine McNaughton (Hennepin County Public Defender).

Also present: Lynn Lewis (area manager, Henn. County Child Protection), Senator Linda Berglin, Rhonda Simpton Brown (juvenile attorney), Judy Driver (Henn. County contract manager), Jennifer Therese Doyle (Henn. County field investigator), and Nancy Lange (Henn. County guardian ad litem).

A special thanks to those who sent cards, letters and emails encouraging us to continue this work: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Keith Ellison, Appellate Court Judge Heidi Shellhaus, Judge Kevin S. Burke, Presiding Judge Tanja K. Manrique, MPD Lt. Medaria (Rondo) Arradondo, Social Worker Mary K. Libra, Honorable Judge Daniel Moreno, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, Eighth Ward Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, and Honorable Judge Deborah Hedlund (Henn. County Dist. Courts).

I will not be able to send Christmas gifts to everyone, but I will make sure all of our supporters get a copy of this column from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

Pastor Mary Flowers Spratt welcomes reader responses to, 612-354-7181, or 612-827-9264, or visit AWMIN at 411East 38th Street, Rm. 102, Minneapolis Urban League South.