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National Technical Assistance and Evaluation Center for Systems of Care
History of Cultural Competency in Public Child Welfare
Federal legislation governing the consideration of race and ethnicity in placement and adoption decisions, services provided to tribal children and families, and timelines to effect a permanency plan for children in care guides the child welfare system's effort to address disparities. The 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994, and the 1996 Inter-Ethnic Placement Provisions, which amended the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, prohibit the use of race as the sole or primary factor in making permanency decisions, while recognizing the importance of culture and race/ethnicity in promoting the overall well-being of children in care. While the data on the impact of transracial placements are ambiguous, this legislation has not eliminated racial/ethnic disparities in the length of time in out-of-home placement nor the time between termination of parental rights and adoption (Vidal de Haymes & Siman, 2003). Complicating the issue further, tribal child welfare systems and the State and local child welfare agencies that work with tribes face multiple layers of jurisdictional and bureaucratic challenges.
Cultural and linguistic competence requires a thoughtful multi-level, multi-systems response that integrates policy and practice improvements and makes use of organizational assessments of cultural and linguistic competence, training, and quality assurance reviews, such as Child and Family Services Reviews, to promote shared accountability.