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Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare
Series: Issue Briefs|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2011|
Permanency for Children in Out-of-Home Care
African-American and Native American children enter the foster care system at a disproportionately high rate (see Table 1 in the Prevalence section). Once they have been removed from their homes, they are more likely to remain in care and less likely to be reunited with their families than are White children. In addition, the CFSRs found that many States have difficulty recruiting foster and adoptive families that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of children in need of out-of-home care. The following are some strategies for achieving permanency for children of color in out-of-home care.
- Kinship care
- A broader definition of kin
- Culturally competent recruitment policies
- Recruiting and retaining resource families
- Subsidized guardianship
- Customary adoption
When the safety of the child can be ensured, family reunification is almost always the preferred goal. Services that promote family reunification include many of the same services needed for prevention: family strengthening, parent education, substance abuse services for parents, and concrete supports such as housing and transportation. The speed with which these services can be put into place has a great impact on the success of reunification: courts may enforce the Adoption and Safe Families Act by terminating parental rights for children who have been in out-of-home care for 15 of 22 months. Thus, most families must meet their goals in this timeframe in order to have hopes of reunification.9 Targeting appropriate services for families of color includes a strengths-based cultural competence component in terms of the service provider, accessibility, and coordination with other demands, such as employment and childcare. In addition, placement of children with kin or with foster families that are in or near the children's own neighborhoods may enable parents to visit more easily—a necessity for achieving reunification goals.
Ideally, when removal is necessary, children are placed directly with kin. In many cases, the children are under the custody of the child welfare system. However, this placement with family members may be more beneficial than regular foster care for the children involved because it helps to preserve community, family, and cultural ties (Roberts, 2001). In addition, for example, placement with kin reflects the longstanding informal practice of kinship care in many African-American and Native American communities.
Building on the kinship care approach, some States and agencies have begun to broaden their definition of who qualifies as kin. While legal definitions have tended to define kin in a fairly narrow way, some cultural traditions use a more inclusive definition. A greater pool of families for a child can be achieved by expanding the definition of kin to include "fictive" kin—adults who may not be related "by blood" but may have another relationship to the child, such as the extended family or Tribe.
For example, former foster parents, members of a cultural community, and others may provide the stability and connection that children or youth need. Carol Harper (personal communication, September 11, 2006) reports on several instances in Family Group Decision-Making with families and friends of older youth that led to identification of and connections with fictive kin.10 In two instances in which the youth were from African immigrant families, their connections with cultural groups (Ethiopian and Oromo-East African) in their cities provided them with supportive fictive kin and helped reconnect them to their heritage. In another case, an incarcerated African-American youth formed a relationship with his brother's foster parent during visits made to the correctional facility. The youth came to regard his brother's foster parent as a family member, and they developed a supportive relationship.
Child welfare agencies and other agencies placing children in foster or permanent homes may use screening processes for prospective resource families that effectively screen out many minority families. Prospective families may be discouraged by caseworkers who lack cultural understanding, forms that are too lengthy, or caseworkers with inflexible working hours (McRoy, 2004). In addition, kin who live in homes that do not have the required number of bedrooms or other features required by State law or policy may not be considered for placement. This may also be an issue for American Indian families, for example, where it is customary for extended family to live together in one home (Jackson, 2005). Policies should take into consideration the cultural customs of a family while continuing to ensure child safety.
Agencies may need to employ different recruiting methods to enlist resource families who reflect the ethnic and racial makeup of the children and families they serve. In one study to determine best practices for recruiting African-American families, the researcher interviewed personnel from 16 agencies and found that agencies often partnered with community organizations—particularly churches, but also social and civic organizations—to build solid relationships within the community. They also involved community leaders and hired additional African-American social workers. Once families adopted, the agencies provided ongoing support to help the families (McRoy, 2004).
Establishing an adoption office within a minority community can help to both distance the office from the potential stigma associated with the child welfare office and to establish the commitment of the agency to finding homes for children within the community. Ruth McRoy (2004) uses the example of setting up an adoption agency office within a well-established church to attract community members.
Other recruiting techniques include mentoring programs that provide prospective foster and adoptive families with both the information and the role models they need to make a decision to become a resource family. In these programs, prospective foster or adoptive families are matched with families in their community who have successfully provided foster care or adopted a child to learn about foster care and adoption, including the preparation, placement, and postplacement processes. Offering sliding-scale fees to low-income families who want to adopt may also broaden the pool of prospective families.
|Promising Project—Foster Care and Adoption|
|Project||Innovations Increasing Adoptive Placements of Hispanic/Latino Children|
|Researcher||The Latino Institute, funded by the Children's Bureau|
|Goal||To address the overrepresentation of Hispanic children in the child welfare system in California|
|Method||A combination of culturally responsive outreach (including a website), presentations to Latino groups, development of a curriculum for adoption applicants, workshops for child welfare professionals, and intensive collaboration with public adoption agencies was used to promote the adoption of Hispanic children (especially males, older children, and sibling groups).|
|Results||Over 3 years, the project received 632 inquiries, which resulted in 69 placements, far outpacing the goal of 40 placements. Effectiveness was attributed to bicultural administrators, long-term participation in the community, and personal contact between staff and prospective families.|
|For More Information||
Subsidized guardianship programs have been established in a number of States to address the problem of foster parents who need support in order to become permanent guardians.11 In subsidized guardianship programs, the caregiver, often a relative, becomes the permanent legal caretaker and receives a monthly stipend, but the rights of the birth parent are not terminated, as in the case of adoption. This may be the best permanency solution for some children, especially older children, when parents are still a part of their lives but unable to provide a permanent and safe home. Subsidized guardianship is also a useful option for relatives who are potential guardians but are reluctant to see parents' rights terminated.
In 2008, the passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act gave States the option to use Federal title IV-E funds to subsidize kinship guardians. This should increase the number of relatives who are able to afford to care for related children.
Customary adoption refers to the Native American custom of adoption within a Tribe; parental rights are not terminated, and the child grows up knowing his or her biological parents and other family members. There is no stigma attached to this sort of adoption, and the arrangement is more flexible than mainstream legal adoption.
A project in Minnesota, funded in part by a grant from the Children's Bureau, involves the efforts of the Rural Expansion of Adoptive Communities and Homes (REACH) project to reach out and recruit American Indian families in the Upper Sioux community to provide Indian children with permanency. Working with the First Nations Orphan Association, REACH helps communities find legal yet culturally appropriate alternatives to traditional formal adoption, stressing the importance of keeping Native children in Native communities. Social workers have the responsibility of providing information to the communities and completing pending adoptions or other permanency arrangements, including those that do not involve termination of parental rights (Jackson, 2005).
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