This page highlights issues relevant to working with Black families. This includes understanding the impact of racism, historical trauma, and ongoing trauma on Black individuals and families as well as relevant cultural issues.
Child welfare professionals working with Black families should understand disproportionality in the child welfare system. Racism in child-serving systems has led to an overrepresentation of children and youth of color in child welfare, child protection, and juvenile justice. Black families are disproportionally represented in child welfare and are more likely to experience negative outcomes compared with White families. Black families are more likely to be subjected to child protective services investigations and to have their children removed and placed in out-of-home care. Once they are involved with child welfare, Black children spend more time in foster care and are less likely to be reunified with their families.
Black families have unique strengths they may draw on when faced with adversity, such as positive outlook (hope), spirituality, religiousness, meaning-making, perseverance/resilience, humor, gratitude, and humility. Providing services in a culturally responsive way can help individuals process the grief of past traumas and create new narratives. Child welfare professionals can use these resources to learn about how the child welfare system has harmed Black families in the past and as a first step in addressing racial disproportionality. Child welfare professionals can also find information on providing culturally appropriate and effective services while working with and supporting Black children, youth, and families. State and local examples are also included.
Understanding historical racism and trauma
Exclusion By Design: The History of Anti-Black Racism in the Child Welfare System [Webinar]
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work (2021)
Presents an online workshop that describes the history of racism in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and presents strategies to address racist policies and practices.
Historical Trauma Among African Americans [Podcast]
Friends National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention
Explores historical trauma among African Americans and discusses topics such as adverse childhood experiences, hope, racial healing, and resilience.
I Can't Breathe: Understanding Cultural Trauma, Grief and Mourning Experienced by African Americans [Video]
Business Academy for Social Workers & Counselors
Discusses historical and ongoing trauma experienced by African Americans and provides strategies for supporting African American colleagues, children, and families.
Our Systems Meant to Help Are Hurting Black Families
National Institute for Children’s Health Equity
Provides testimony from the perspective of an advocate for parents on how biased reporting causes unintentional harm for mothers and children in Black families.
Overrepresentation of Black Children in Child Welfare (PDF - 586 KB)
National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (2022)
Shares the results of a study on racial disparities and the overrepresentation of Black children and youth in child welfare across several countries. Findings showed that overrepresentation of Black children and youth was associated with several risk factors and systemic disparities embedded in our educational, legal, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems.
Racism Is an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)
University of North Carolina School of Social Work, Jordan Institute for Families
Discusses science that shows racism is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) and data that show children who have experienced interpersonal racism are at higher risk for other ACEs.
“We Shall Overcome”: Black History and Historical Trauma
Institute of Family and Community Impact
Describes how society should approach healing historical trauma and how to begin to overcome generational effects of trauma experienced by Black families and communities. The webpage presents a listing of additional resources on historical trauma, how it is carried across generations, how trauma affects health, racial trauma, and more.
Supporting Black families involved with child welfare
African American Grandfamilies: Helping Children Thrive Through Connection to Family and Culture
Generations United (2020)
Provides access to a toolkit to help child welfare and other government agencies provide more equitable services for African American families by helping children thrive while they remain connected to their family and culture during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Connectedness Framework: Breaking the Cycle of Child Removal for Black and Indigenous Children
Chase & Ulrich (2022)
International Journal on Child Maltreatment: Research, Policy and Practice, 5
Explores the racist history of child removals and disproportionality in the child protection system and presents a framework of connectedness that would help stop this unnecessary trauma. The article concludes with a series of recommendations on a new, antiracist approach to child welfare.
Family, Economic, and Geographic Characteristics of Black Families With Children
Lloyd, Alvira-Hammond, Carlson, & Logan (2021)
Compiles a series of briefs that highlights recent data, historical context, the role of Federal policies on addressing structural inequities, and housing access and provides additional resources that support Black families.
Family Preservation Matters: Why Kinship Care for Black Families, Native American Families, and Other Families of Color Is Critical to Preserve Culture and Restore Family Bonds
Juvenile Law Center
Discusses how the use of kinship care promotes racial equity and increases rates of permanency for children and youth within Black and Native families and communities.
Fighting Institutional Racism at the Front End of Child Welfare Systems: A Call to Action to End the Unjust, Unnecessary, and Disproportionate Removal of Black Children From Their Families (PDF - 533 KB)
Children’s Rights (2021)
Presents a report that calls for an end to racism in child welfare and identifies strategies to address the inequities experienced by families and children of color throughout the child welfare system.
Reimagining Black Families’ Cultural Assets Can Inform Policies and Practices That Enhance Their Well-Being
Lloyd, Shaw, Sanders, Abdul-Masih, & Schaefer (2022)
Explores historical perspectives and recent trends for Black families in the United States and presents an overview of Black families’ cultural assets. The assets include extended kin and social networks, religiosity and spirituality, optimism, and role flexibility.
Successfully Recruiting and Supporting African American Families
Describes how an adoption administrator in Iredell County, NC, was better able to recruit and support African American families who were considering adoption.
Unlocking and Addressing the Barriers to Retention of African American Families
Adopt Talk, 2 (2021)
North American Council on Adoptable Children
Discusses the need to increase recruitment of families of color for adoptable children and youth and how one strategy achieved this goal in Allegheny County, PA.
Why Develop a Culturally Sensitive Approach to Social Work With African American Clients?
The New Social Worker
Discusses cultural differences that may impede a social worker's ability to build rapport with African American clients and explains how a culturally sensitive approach mitigates these challenges.