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The Racial Geography of Child Welfare

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1 The Racial Geography of Child Welfare
Dorothy Roberts, J.D. Northwestern University School of Law & Institute for Policy Research D. Roberts, Northwestern University

2 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Learning Objectives Meaning of racial disproportionality. National rates. Research on causes. Impact on child welfare policy and practice. Impact on communities – the “racial geography” of child welfare. Changes in policy and practice to eliminate racial disproportionality. Ways you are affected by racial disproportionality and can contribute to eliminating it. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

3 Measuring Racial Disparities: National Numbers
Overrepresentation: percentage of children in system from racial group is greater than group’s proportion in the general population. In 2000, children of color comprised only 31% of general population, but 59% of children in out-of-home care (“foster care”); 61% of children awaiting adoption. African Americans: 15% population v. 41% in care Native Americans: 1% population v. 2% in care D. Roberts, Northwestern University

4 Racial Disproportionality: U.S.
Compares rates of child welfare system involvement for children of a particular group with those for another (e.g., rates for children of color v. white children). Numbers in foster care per 1,000 children: Black: 21 Native American: 16 Hispanic: 7 White: 5 Black children were 4 times as likely as white children to be in foster care. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

5 Racial Disproportionality: San Francisco, 2006
Numbers in care per 1,000 children: Native American: 130 Black: 110 Hispanic: 10 White: 6 Asian: 3 D. Roberts, Northwestern University

6 Disproportionality in San Francisco, 2006
Native American children were 22 times more likely than white children to be in care. Black children were 19 times more likely than white children to be in care in 2006. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

7 Percent of Children Exiting Care to Reunification within Race, 2000
D. Roberts, Northwestern University

8 Median Length of Stay for Children Exiting Care, 2000
D. Roberts, Northwestern University

9 Other Racial Disparities
African American children: Reported more often for abuse and neglect. More likely to have charges substantiated. Less likely to receive needed mental health services once in foster care. Have fewer visits with parents and siblings. Families receive fewer preventive, reunification, and other services. Families have fewer contacts with caseworkers. Parents’ rights more likely to be terminated. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

10 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
“The disparities in outcomes are so great that racial/ethnic inequities can best be described as a ‘chronic crisis.’” Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity, 2006 D. Roberts, Northwestern University

11 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Causes: Key Issues Is the cause inside or outside the system? “Race effect”: How does race interact with other factors? At which decision points do disparities occur? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

12 Inside or Outside the System?
Societal conditions outside the system increase risk of involvement (e.g., poverty, incarceration, parent death) v. Racially differential practices within the system D. Roberts, Northwestern University

13 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
“Evidence about the needs of children and families prior to service receipt cannot be used to argue that less favorable outcomes result from worse child welfare services for AA children than for Caucasians rather than from worse initial circumstances of AA families.” (Courtney et al. 1998) “When many factors are considered, AA children are not overserved or overinvolved in the child welfare system.” (Barth et al. 2001) D. Roberts, Northwestern University

14 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Reporting Doctors failed to detect abusive head trauma 2X as often in white children as minority children (Jenny et al. 1999). Black and Hispanic toddlers hospitalized for fractures between 1994 and X more likely to be evaluated for child abuse, and 3X more likely to be reported, than white children with same injuries (Lane et al. 2002). Black women 10X more likely to be reported by doctors for substance abuse during pregnancy than white women. (Chasnoff et al. 1990) D. Roberts, Northwestern University

15 Out-of-Home Placement
“Even when families have the same characteristics and lack of problems, African American children, and Hispanic children to a lesser extent, are more likely than white children to be placed in foster care.” (U.S. Dept. Health & Human Services 1997) “African American children are more likely to be placed in foster care than Caucasian children with comparable characteristics.” (Hill 2001) Black children are disproportionately in foster care for neglect. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

16 Center for Study of Social Policy, Race Equity Review, 1/16/09
African American families don’t receive necessary supports to prevent involvement or to strengthen them. System doesn’t fairly assess or appreciate their unique strengths and weaknesses. African American families and youth are negatively characterized or labeled by workers. Insufficient advocacy for families and children. No mechanisms to hold agencies accountable. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

17 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
“The belief that African American children are better off away from their families and communities was seen in explicit statements by key policy makers and service providers. It was also reflected in choices made by DHS.” CSSP Race Equity Review D. Roberts, Northwestern University

18 Societal and Systemic Factors
Race interacts with other predictors (parental substance abuse, child age, disability, welfare receipt, family structure, location) to influence outcomes. Cumulative Effect: Disproportionality increases at each decision point, as children move through system. “Exit dynamics”: longer stays in foster care; independent race effect. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

19 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Impact: Key Issues Is disproportionality bad for children of color? What is the impact of disproportionality on policy and practice? What is the impact of disproportionality on communities? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

20 Is Disproportionality Bad for Black Children?
Black children benefit from receiving needed child welfare services (Barth et al. 2000; Bartholet 2009) BUT are there less intrusive means of providing for Black children’s well being? History of state-imposed institutions for Blacks History of race and services v. foster care Accounting for the harms of disproportionality D. Roberts, Northwestern University

21 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Nicholson v. Scopetta “They are continually forcibly removed from their abused mothers without a court adjudication and placed in forced state custody in either state or privately run institutions for long periods of time. They are disciplined by those not their parents. This is a form of slavery.” D. Roberts, Northwestern University

22 The System’s Racial Geography
Child welfare agency involvement concentrated in poor communities of color. Chicago, SF, NYC: low-income black families concentrated in neighborhoods where most cases concentrated. One in ten children in some African- and Native-American neighborhoods is in foster care. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

23 The Community Dimension of CPS
What connections between communities and families have policy makers, researchers, social workers recognized? What connections have they failed to see? Why are some aspects more prominent in research, policy, and practice than others? Dorothy Roberts, Northwestern University

24 Social Science Research
“It takes a village to raise a child” “Neighborhood Effects”: impact of neighborhood characteristics & community-level social dynamics on children and families. William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged (1987): “concentration effects.” Dorothy Roberts, Northwestern University

25 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Social Work Practice Community-based approaches to child welfare decision making & service delivery Two main approaches: Integrate communities into traditional case work with clients. Build capacity of neighborhoods to provide healthier environments for children. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

26 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Another Dimension Identifying the child welfare system itself as aspect of neighborhoods with community-wide impact on residents. Socio-political impact of spatial concentration of child welfare supervision in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Community impact of racial disproportionality. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

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Racial differences in rates of foster care placement affect more than individual child’s risk of placement. Also risk of growing up in neighborhood where state supervision prevalent. Makes child welfare system distinctively different institution for white and black children in U.S. Requires a new paradigm that focuses on neighborhood social dynamics. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

30 Woodlawn Study: Research Questions
Interviews with 25 African-American female residents; ages How do high rates of child welfare agency involvement affect: community life? residents’ social networks, civic participation, and collective efficacy? Attitudes about government and self-governance? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

31 Findings: Awareness of DCFS Involvement in Woodlawn
24 respondents aware of intense involvement with families in neighborhood. 17 respondents estimated number of involved families to be at least half. 14 respondents understood DCFS main function to center on removing children from their homes. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

32 How many Woodlawn families are involved with DCFS?
Over half of the community I would say. Yeah, it’s a lot. My God, probably thousands. I’m gonna say 90 percent. I wanna say, probably seven out of ten. I think it’s a lot. I would say like 60 percent. From 60th to 67th, State to Stoney Island, even with it being 150 cases just in that little vicinity, 150 apartments or families or whatever, or everybody in the whole three-flat. It’s definitely common because people always getting their children taken away. I think everyone in Woodlawn knows someone in the system. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

33 Impact on Social Relationships
interference with parental authority family conflicts over placement of children damage to children’s ability to form social relationships distrust among neighbors [DCFS] disrupts the community… I would say it’s a trust thing.... D. Roberts, Northwestern University

34 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Parental Authority 11respondents observed that DCFS involvement in Woodlawn generally interferes with parents’ authority over their children. Children who have been placed in foster care lose respect for their parents because their parents do not have custody of them. General impact of DCFS involvement on parents’ ability to discipline their children. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

35 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Aisha, 24 She was taken away from her mother. Well, she’s staying with her mother now, but she still get checks and stuff from [DCFS].… Like the respect – being away from your mother like that, if you haven’t been put in a good home, the respect that you have for your parent is little. If you don’t have anybody teaching you moral decency or you don’t have God in your life, your respect for that person who birthed you is little. It’s very, very little. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

36 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Vickie, 38 A lot of people, when they hear the word DCFS, a lot of people get scared. Because it’s to the point of okay, if I discipline my child this way or whatever, you all are gonna call on me, because I discipline my child. How can you all tell me how to raise my child? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

37 Foster Children’s Relationships
18 respondents described instability, disconnection, and uncertainty experienced by children placed in foster care. 11of these respondents noted psychological injuries hamper children’s ability to form healthy social relationships later in life. 4 respondents explicitly tied detrimental effects of foster care on individual children to interests of the broader community. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

38 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Lauren, 26 Really, you splitting the family up. That does impact the family because the kids they need to be with their moms. If that’s the only thing they know, then they go somewhere else and they ain’t gonna be right. If they used to one environment and you put them somewhere else and they go place to place to place to place, it’s a big impact. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

39 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Ida, 46 The kids with the relatives are not affected as much because they are at least with people they know. I feel for the kids who are with people they don’t know in new communities. I think they can lose their background and culture and wonder who they are – it’s those kids who could really get in to some trouble with drugs and stuff. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

40 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Aisha, 24 The child’s gotta go through all this ridicule, being tossed about, your mother is nothing, your family is nothing, you been taken away. And it kinda makes the child feel like unwanted. And that why we have a lot of men and women growing up today very rebellious and very hurt and doing a lot of things out of their hurt because of the suffering and ridicule that they dealt with as a child. [Foster children] don’t have any sense of security. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

41 Distrust Among Neighbors
9 respondents reported it is common for residents to call DCFS to report neighbors for child maltreatment. 7 respondents reported DCFS involvement caused tension among neighbors by generating gossip. 8 respondents reported common use of DCFS as a means of retaliation heightens the sense of suspicion among neighbors. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

42 Anita, case manager for private agency
I think my friends, family, and neighbors call more than I do. Sometimes I think they have DCFS on speed dial like it’s an answer, a one and only answer. Even though they will say they think DCFS is overly involved they will be the first to call. It doesn’t really make sense, but they do. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

43 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Cassie, 26 You got to watch what you do and what you say and all this, ‘cause you don’t know who you could be talking to. Out on the street you don’t know who you could be talking to. She could be DCFS, writing down stuff, taking notes, all of that, and you don’t know who she is. So you have to be careful. You have to be very careful. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

44 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Regina, 29 Everybody talk, especially over in here, so, talking behind the backs, you could walk down the street and hear, “Oh girl, her kids got taken yesterday.” Now do you even know why her children got taken? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

45 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Tiara, 24: Teachers are even using it for revenge too. If you even went to school with these teachers and they made it all right in their career and now they’re teaching in your community and your kids is one of their students, that if she didn’t like you unknowingly all this time since high school… you got teachers that set you up at the end of the school year. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

46 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Social Impact Residents often use DCFS as a means of resolving family and community conflicts. Suggests concentrated agency involvement has a significant influence on neighborhood relationships and norms. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

47 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Is DCFS Too Involved? NO!: additional financial resources to families; monitor foster homes better. Key positive role: financial support for mothers, foster parents, and foster children. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

48 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
It does help them out financial wise, pay bills and stuff like that, they help them out, they do give them money for keeping the kids too. (Angela, 27) The only [positive impact of DCFS] that I can think about is the resources that they do provide children or grandparents or other family members who take in their family members….A lot of people need them. (Wanda, 56) D. Roberts, Northwestern University

49 But a different kind of involvement
More financial support with less disruption of family relationships. 10 respondents criticized agency’s narrow role, rooted in investigating families rather than helping them. I think there are a lot of problems with DCFS because they only help when they are called. Other than that they don’t care. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

50 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Michelle, 34: The advertisement, it just says abuse. If you being abused, this is the number you call, this is the only way you gonna get help. It doesn’t say if I’m in need of counseling, or if my children don’t have shoes, if I just can’t provide groceries even though I may have seven kids, but I only get a hundred something dollars food stamps. And my work check only goes to bills. … I don’t want to lose my children, so I’m not going to call DCFS for help because I only see them take away children. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

51 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
The price of support The child welfare system requires poor parents of color to relinquish custody of their children in exchange for state support needed to care for them. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

52 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
What are the policies, practices, and programs that decrease racial disproportionality? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

53 What does this mean for policy & practice?
If racial disproportionality causes community-wide harms: Community involvement in developing child welfare policy, programs, & practice More support for families to avoid system involvement Family advocacy/ parent education & organizing Voluntary v. punitive, disruptive services Neighborhood-building strategies

54 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Strategic Level Multiple strategies: targeted & for all families; interdepartmental; external partnerships. Prioritizing and accountability: internal leadership capacity; data; regular evaluation. Community engagement and partnership. Neighborhood-building strategies. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

55 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
System Level Translate race equity philosophy into policies and practices. Improved support to avoid system involvement: differential response; preventive services; kinship care. Voluntary v. coercive services. Family involvement & advocacy. Strength-based decision making; FGDM. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

56 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
D.Crampton & W.Lewis Jackson, FGDM & Disproportionality in Foster Care: A Case Study Of 257 cases involving children of color, 61 (24%) diverted from foster care by FGDM. Need for alternative financial supports for relative caregivers who participate in FGDM. Voluntary family participation suggests they believe FGDM is a valuable service. Child Welfare, vol. 86, pp (May/June 2007) D. Roberts, Northwestern University

57 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Social worker level Cultural humility (more than cultural competency). Undoing racism training (e.g., People’s Institute 3-day workshops). Social workers as social advocates D. Roberts, Northwestern University

58 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity Breakthrough Series Collaborative Plan-Do-Study-Act Team: child welfare & human services staff, judge, community members, former foster youth Each member chooses one idea for change & implements it for testing. Group reconvenes to discuss results. Team member returns to test idea again, with feedback and expansion. D. Roberts, Northwestern University

59 Excuse: “It’s not the system’s fault”
Societal conditions outside the system increase risk of involvement v. racial bias within the system False dichotomy Both societal conditions and bias Systemic v. individual causes Practice and policy make a difference

60 Excuse:“There’s no consensus on how to address disproportionality”
Eliminating unequal treatment of children by social workers (cultural competency, training) Keeping children in their communities and extended families (recruitment of foster parents, kinship care) Reducing numbers of children of color placed in foster care; family supports Let’s see what works!

61 The real challenge Are we really prepared to make the fundamental changes in our approach to child protection, child welfare, and support for families necessary to eliminate racial disproportionality? What positive, effective steps can we take in the meantime?

62 D. Roberts, Northwestern University
Questions What promising practices, programs, and policies have you seen? What are the barriers to their implementation and how can they be removed? What can we each commit to do NOW to help increase racial equity in the child welfare system? D. Roberts, Northwestern University

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