some information about racial disroportionality in child welfare

In honor of National Foster Care Month, I’ve decided to post some links to information about the child welfare system in the US, in addition to some statistics that I think are important to know, but which are not well known – about what foster care is, and about who is most affected.

Today’s post looks at racial disproportionality in the child welfare system, referring primarily to formal foster care. Disproportionality in child welfare is a major pattern, recognized by both public and private agencies that work in and around foster care. Disproportionality generally refers to the overrepresentation of certain racial and/or ethnic groups in the child welfare system, and indicates larger systemic issues relating to the application of irrelevant standards contributing to removal, as well as a disparity in services received between certain racial and/or ethnic groups. This might sound like a bunch of gobbledygook, so here are some statistics, which I think provide a good example of what I’m talking about:

  • In 2006 there were 510,000 children/youth in foster care. Roughly 60 percent of those children/youth were children/youth of color. Children/youth of color comprised only about 40 percent of the general child/youth population during this time, and were therefore overrepresented in the population of children/youth in foster care.
  • Black and Native American children/youth are three times more likely to be in foster care than white children/youth, and in certain states Latino children/youth are also overrepresented.
  • Black children/youth who are removed from their homes stay in foster care an average of nine months longer than white children/youth.

(From a (2009) report by the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning – A Service of Children’s Bureau/ACF/DHHS)

A quick side note: these statistics only account for one side of the equation, particularly when we’re talking about transracial foster care. Still to be discussed are the number of licensed foster caregivers according to race, implications for how frequently transracial foster care occurs, and the effects of transracial foster care on the child/youth.

Back to business…

Some state agencies have begun to address racial disproportionality by creating forums to improve policies and practices in public child welfare. A report by the Casey – CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in the Child Welfare System lists the following jurisdictions attempting to reduce racial disproportionality in 2006:

San Francisco City and County




Sioux City, Iowa


Ramsey County, Minnesota

Guilford County, North Carolina

Wake County, North Carolina

San Antonio, Texas

King County, Washington (woot woot!)

As an example, the initiative in Washington (where I currently live), is called the King County Coalition on Racial Disproportionality. The Coalition is a group of agencies and organizations convened by the King County Superior Court in 2002 to analyze local child welfare data and make decisions to improve outcomes for those most impacted.

Of course, there are no easy solutions. The Coalition continues to meet and work toward addressing racial disproportionality, by providing education and public advocacy to support efforts that reduce it.

This video was produced by the Coalition to generate awareness of racial disproportionality, and to show steps communities can take to address it:

Below are more links to general information about racial disproportionality in child welfare:

US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Disproportionality”

US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children & Families Child Welfare Information Gateway, Issue Brief on “Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare”

Casey Family Programs, Publication,“Racial Disproportionality, Race Disparity, and Other Race-Related Findings in Published Works Derived from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being”

National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, “Disproportionate Representation of Children and Youth of Color”

And a couple book recommendations:

“Shattered Bonds: The Color Of Child Welfare” (2002) by Dorothy Robers

“Race Matters In Child Welfare: The Overrepresentation Of African American Children In The System” (2004) ed. by Dennette M. Derezotes, John Poertner, and Mark F. Testa

More to come!


About mirellawarren

social work consultant, transracial adoptee, adoptee rights advocate, writer
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