MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An appeals court says child welfare agencies in Minnesota must have a court hearing before ruling out family members as adoptive parents for neglected children.

The ruling involves Anoka County Social Services. The three-judge panel recently ruled the agency violated state law when it denied a woman’s petition to be the adoptive parent of her three grandchildren without first obtaining a court order to exclude her.

The Star Tribune reports the children were removed from their parents’ custody because of drug abuse. They were placed with foster parents who were not related. The grandmother was never notified.

Child welfare advocates say the ruling send a clear message that social service agencies cannot automatically exclude relatives in adoption proceedings and that they should be a priority in placement options.

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