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Color of Child Welfare Policy: Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services. Ruth G. McRoy Center for Social Work Research The University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas. Overrepresentation: A Definition.

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color of child welfare policy racial disparities in child welfare services

Color of Child Welfare Policy:Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services

Ruth G. McRoy

Center for Social Work Research

The University of Texas at Austin

Austin, Texas

overrepresentation a definition
Overrepresentation: A Definition
  • If a particular racial/ethnic group of children are represented in foster care at a higher percentage than they are represented in the general population
  • 14.7% of children under 18 in US are AA
  • 38% of children in foster care are AA
  • A situation in which a particular racial/ethnic group of children are represented in foster care at a higher percentage than other racial/ethnic groups
    • (i.e. If 5% of all White children are in care, then 5% of African American, Hispanic etc.)
according to afcars report march 31 2000
According to AFCARS report, March 31, 2000
  • 588,000 children in the foster care system
      • White, non Hispanic 35% (207,948)
      • Black, Non-Hispanic 38% (226,363)
      • Hispanic, 15% (88,939)
      • AI/AN Non Hispanic 2% (9,330)
      • Asian/PI NI Non-Hispanic (6,213)
      • Unknown 8% (49,207)
disparities not unique to child welfare
Disparities not Unique to Child Welfare
  • Criminal justice
  • Health care
  • Mental health
  • Homelessness
  • Victims of violent crime
  • Special education
criminal justice african americans
Criminal Justice & African Americans
  • 12.4% of the U.S. population
    • 48.2% of entire prison population
  • 40% of juveniles in legal custody
  • Overrepresented in local jails
health care african americans
Health Care & African Americans
  • Rate of diabetes is more than three times that of whites
  • HIV/AIDS more than seven times that of whites
  • Infant mortality twice that of whites
  • Life span differential
treatment differentials
Treatment Differentials

Institute of Medicine

  • Minorities are less likely than whites to get…
    • proper heart medication, heart bypass surgery
    • kidney dialysis & transplants
  • Gap greatest between blacks & whites
  • Blacks on Medicare more likely to have their lower limbs amputated
    • diabetes
mental health
Mental Health
  • Recent Surgeon General’s report on inequities
    • Disparities in availability, accessibility, & quality of mental health services for racial and ethnic minorities
homelessness african americans
Homelessness & African Americans
  • 44% of homeless population
  • 3.5 times more AA than whites are homeless
    • Overrepresentation includes many women, children & youth
victims of violent crime
Victims of Violent Crime
  • AA of all ages are more likely to be the victims of serious violent crime than are whites.
  • At greater risk of knowing someone who had suffered violence
    • Greater risk not associated with SES differences or differences in area of residence
from underrepresentation to overrepresentation
From Underrepresentation to Overrepresentation
  • African American children
    • Slavery
    • Excluded from most orphanages /placed in almshouses
    • Free foster homes
    • 1910 National Urban League advocated for equitable services for AA children
    • 1923—Most child welfare institutions still segregated

Ira De A. Reid of Urban League

  • Discrimination against black parents in
    • Income maintenance
    • Medical care
    • Services to unwed mothers
    • Day care services
  • Arbitrary enforcement of welfare policies
    • “Man in the house”
    • Illegitimate child
    • home suitability clauses
in new york city between 1927 and 1939
In New York City between 1927 and 1939,
  • Number of cps cases of Caucasian children declined by more than 31%
    • Number of CPS cases of AA children rose by 147% (Piven and Cloward, 1971)
  • In 1939, 23 of 27 Protestant custodial care agencies took only Caucasian children in NYC
    • AA children often had to be labeled juvenile criminals to qualify for any out of home placement services (Bernstein-Lost Children of Wilder)

Maas and Engler

  • reported that more AA children in care and less likely to be adopted
  • Culturally insensitive workers
    • Removing children from “undesirable family situation”
    • Placing in foster care
  • 81% of children in out of home care in 1963
    • there because parents were unmarried
    • came from broken homes
    • Most were African American & Indian

Jeter reports black children…

  • Remain in foster care for longer periods of time than white children
  • Not offered adoption on equitable basis
  • Experience ongoing discrimination in service provision
  • Served by public agencies
    • Private agencies serving white children
responses in 1970 s 80 s
Responses in 1970’s–80’s
  • NABSW Position Statement
  • 1974 Child Abuse Prevention & Treatment Act
  • 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Adoption Assistance & Child Welfare Act
    • “reasonable efforts”
1980 s 90 s present
1980’s & 90’s–present
  • Growing Numbers of Children in Care
    • 1982
      • 262,000 children in care (52% Anglo)
    • 1993
      • 429,000 (38% Anglo)
    • 2001
      • 588,000 (35% Anglo)
new york afcars 1998
New York AFCARS 1998
  • 17% of child population in New York is AA
    • 53,555 children in care
      • 49% African American
reasons for out of home placement child maltreatment
Reasons for out of home placement—Child Maltreatment
  • Increase in maltreatment
    • Increase in poverty
    • Lindsey (1991) & Pelton (1989)
        • Parental income is best predictor of child removal & placement
      • Majority of children in care from single-parent, low-income households
differential attribution labeling bias
Differential Attribution & Labeling Bias
  • Physicians more likely to attribute injury to abuse in lower income homes
  • Often product of poverty
  • Parents under scrutiny/more likely to be reported
  • “The reason for placement is that the family, frequently due to poverty, does not have the resources to offset the impact of situational or personal problems which themselves are often caused by poverty, and the agencies have failed to provide the needed supports, such as baby sitting, homemaking, day care, financial assistance, and housing assistance.”

—Pelton, (1989) pp. 52–53

correlates of out of home placement
Correlates of Out-of-Home Placement
  • Poverty
    • Rates of child poverty rising
      • Impact of welfare reform
  • Substance abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Aids
  • Teen parenthood
  • Violence
  • Racism
disproportionate poverty
Disproportionate Poverty
  • Blacks represent about 12.8% of population yet 23.6% of Blacks are poor
  • Income differential
    • Median Income
      • AA 29,740
      • Whites 52,821
    • 50% female headed AA households
      • avg. income $17,316
child in poverty is
Child in poverty is
  • 26 times more likely to drop out of school
  • 160 times more likely to give birth as a teen
  • 18 times more likely to be killed by gunfire
  • 60 times more likely to suffer reportable abuse or neglect
  • 46 times more likely to be placed in foster care

—According to Annie E. Casey Foundation

substance abuse
Substance Abuse
  • Parental substance abuse
    • 42% of children who were victims of abuse & neglect
      • In 77% alcohol was the problem substance
      • In 23% cocaine was the problem substance
  • Alcohol and drug related cases more likely to result in foster care placements than other cases (DHHS, 1999)
    • Black women more likely to be reported for prenatal substance abuse
    • more likely to have children removed
imprisonment of parents
Imprisonment of Parents
  • 1.74 million children have at least one parent in prison
    • Disproportionately high numbers of AA in prison
      • 9.7 % of Black men ages 20–29 in prison
        • 428,999 black men
      • 2.9% Hispanic men
      • 1.1 percent of non-Hispanic White men ages 20–29
  • Can lose eligibility for TANF
jail sentences for african americans
Jail Sentences for African Americans
  • Both men & women typically serve more time than whites for same offense (Dept. of Justice, 1995)
  • Children likely to be separated from parents longer than white children
  • Termination proceedings after 15 of past 22 months (ASFA, 1997)
  • Visitation is problematic
    • location not accessible
disparities in conviction rates
Disparities in Conviction Rates
  • Two thirds of crack cocaine users are Whites and Hispanics
  • Persons most likely convicted of possession were AA
    • 84.5% African Americans
    • 10.3% Whites
    • 5.2% Hispanics
  • Crack cocaine
    • Harsher penalties than for powder cocaine
  • Child maltreatment reporting
  • Service provision
  • Kinship care
  • Family preservation

—Inequities reported from Courtney

  • Exit rates
  • Length of care
  • Placement stability
  • Adoption
  • Majority of racial differences reported were between African Americans and Anglos rather than any other group

—Inequities reported from Courtney


Barth develops model of caseload flow of children

  • Report/no report
  • Investigation/no investigation
  • Substantiation/no substantiation
  • Case closed/no services/in home services/out of home care (kin,foster)
  • Reunification/adoption/remain in care or age out
several recent studies
Several recent studies
  • NIS-1,NIS2,NIS3—estimates about incidence of child abuse & neglect
    • Reported o differences in incidence of child abuse & neglect by racial group
      • Issues raised about sample selection bias raise questions about validity/possible undercount

Barth suggests multiplicative model

  • “There are small to medium increases in the disproportionality by population experienced by AA children as they move through the child welfare system, which results in substantial differences in their representation in child welfare compared to their representation in general population”
  • Argues greater risk for child abuse & neglect in AA families
  • Reentry rates highest for AA children

“Proportionate to need”—Barth

  • “No compelling reason to assume that this disproportionality is not generally in the best interests of the children served”
service provision
Service Provision
  • Lack of culturally competent child protective service workers
  • Most have no training in service provision to African Americans
  • Most lack training in risk assessments, child dev., parenting, etc.
service provision39
Service Provision
  • Greater substantiation on AA & Latino children
    • Zellman (1992) found survey participants more likely to believe report should be made on child of color described in vignette than white child
service provision40
Service Provision
  • AA children more likely to remain in care longer, less visitation, fewer contacts with workers
  • AA children least likely to have plans for contact with families, fewer services
service provision41
Service Provision
  • Less likely to be…
    • adopted
    • reunified from non-kinship care
    • offered family preservation services
      • Types of services temporary & not sufficient to raise families out of poverty
  • Despite advantages of minority specializing agencies,few agencies have used or established such programs
shortage of aa adoptive parents
Shortage of AA Adoptive Parents
  • Lack of sufficient minority & trained staff
  • Knowledge of subsidies
  • Screening out process
  • Transracial adoptions
decision making points
Decision-Making Points
  • Worker/supervisor level (investigation)
    • Reporting
    • Decision to investigate
    • Service provision
    • Placement recommendation
judicial level
Judicial Level
  • Experience/knowledge
  • Legal representation
  • Advocacy
worker supervisor level
Worker/Supervisor Level
  • Placement
    • Knowledge/experience
    • Bias
    • Caseload
    • Perception of available homes
impact of other systems on child welfare
Impact of Other Systems on Child Welfare
  • Economic system
  • Criminal justice system
  • Legal System
  • Welfare System
  • Reasons for disproportionality
    • Person- or community-centered
    • Agency-centered
    • Societal
person or community centered
Person- or Community-Centered
  • Child, Family, and Community
    • Location or residence
    • Poverty/uninsured/lack of resources
    • Lack of knowledge to access services/legal rights
    • Community or individual mistrust
    • Visibility hypothesis—visibility might propel into foster care or lack protections

—Jenkins, Diamond, Garland,

agency centered
  • Lack of culturally responsive services
  • Lack of Minority staff
  • Lack of accessible locations
  • Failure to reach population
  • Decision making
  • Myths/stereotypes about AA families
societal centered
  • Discrimination/racism
  • Funding
  • Missouri Fed. Judge stated in case on racial disparities in sentencing
    • “Perceptions of AA as dangerous, different, or subordinate are lessons learned and internalized completely outside of our awareness, and are reinforced by the media-generated stereotyping.”
other factors
Other Factors
  • Failure of domestic policy has led to racial isolation and concentration of the black poor in inner cities
    • Black migration to urban areas
      • Lack of responsiveness re jobs, housing, services, educational programs
  • Growth of prison industry
  • Insufficient drug treatment programs
changes result from
Changes Result From
  • Legislation
  • Court cases—class action suits/civil rights
  • Media attention to institutional discrimination
  • Governmental reports
  • Mandated changes in training for judges,workers, other staff
  • Acknowledge intersystemic disparities
  • Child protection or
    • Promoting children’s welfare