Addressing Racial Disproportionality and Disparity




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April 2022   |   Archive   |   National Adoption Month  

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Addressing Racial Disproportionality and Disparity

The child welfare system in the United States continues to be under a great deal of scrutiny because of the disproportionality and adverse outcomes Black, Native American, and other marginalized children and families involved with the system experience. Research shows how disproportionality in the child welfare system is indicative of much larger systemic issues that child welfare systems alone cannot solve. Research has shown how poverty intersects with systemic racist policies and practices in what we know as the social safety net resulting in families living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and not being able to access quality physical and mental health care.

While the causes of disproportionate representation of Black and brown children does not reside solely with the child welfare system, child welfare systems are often where the results of societal marginalization and oppression are most evident. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates that Black, Native American, and Latinx children are disproportionately represented at the major decision points along the child welfare system's path. Children from marginalized groups, especially Black families and children, are investigated more often and those investigations are more likely to be substantiated and the child is removed and placed in out-of-home care more often than their White counterparts. Once in out-of-home care, they tend to experience longer stays and are less likely to be reunified with their parents. Native American children and families have a different yet profoundly traumatizing history with the child welfare system. Between 1860 and 1978, the U.S. government separated Native children from their families and placed them in boarding schools with the intention of "civilizing" them by stripping them of their language, spiritual practices, and Native American culture. Many Native American children died due to the boarding schools' brutality and negligence. The survivors who returned to their homes and families were indelibly marked by the pain of their time in the institutions. The pain they carried seeped into the families they returned to and later built, resulting in multigenerational trauma.

There is a great deal of research—spanning many years—about how Black, Native American, and other marginalized children and families interact with the child welfare system and the effects of that interaction on them. Many credible studies conclude that systemic racism is partially, if not wholly, responsible for the disproportionate representation and adverse outcomes that these families experience. Additionally, studies also often explore how other significant social issues, such as poverty, mental health problems, substance misuse, and mass incarceration, interact with race and result in adverse outcomes. Whether systemic racism is a primary or exacerbating factor, child welfare professionals across the country agree that the field needs new strategies to make significant changes to improve services and supports to vulnerable Black and Brown children and families. To that end, Federal, State, and local child welfare professionals are assessing agency policies and practices for the ways they uphold or combat systemic racism.

Race and racism's role in the child welfare system is not a new discussion or research topic. However, there is now an opportunity to coordinate efforts on the practice and policy fronts and view child welfare practice through a racial equity lens to ensure that the system responsible for protecting children and strengthening families is not irreparably harming them. As child welfare systems begin taking a more critical look at their policies and practices, they must also assess ways to prepare and support their workforce to provide services with an eye toward racial equity. Every child welfare professional can play a role in addressing the disparities that exist.


3 Resources on Racial Disproportionality and Disparity in Child Welfare

Child Welfare Practice to Address Racial Disproportionality and Disparity


Child Welfare Gateway


Cocreating a More Equitable Child Welfare System


By Capacity Building
Center for States,
Children's Bureau Express



Unequal Outcomes: Decreasing Racial Disparity in Permanency


                                           By Perry, AdoptUSKids




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