As much as I love to write, my day job is in a completely different lane. As a social worker, I serve CASA Nashville as a volunteer advocate team leader. Simply put, I manage and supervise a team of 30+ volunteers that advocate for youth in foster care. [Shameless plug: CASA Nashville is currently hiring and we’re always looking for great volunteers to join our team!]
This work lands me in Metro Nashville Juvenile Court weekly, speaking up for the best interest of children and teens in state custody. (Shout out to Judge Sheila Calloway!) In addition to advocating for youth, I also serve as the Family Preservation Specialist at CASA, as we aspire to assist youth return home to their “first families.”
A few things have become obvious to me as I’ve done this work since January 2021, and worked with foster families for over a decade now. I’ve learned:
- Once a child is in the foster care system, it can be very challenging for him/her to return home.
- It often takes 6 months or more for a child to return home, even when parents are working the plans that the state has mandated they complete.
- Being removed from home and being placed in foster care creates additional trauma to already traumatized youth.
- It is typically easier to keep a child home and help parents improve the safety and stability of their home, than removing the child and placing him/her in a foster home or residential facility. (Unless there is severe abuse or neglect involved, of course.)
- Teens land in residential facilities more often than they should, due to the lack of foster homes willing to take in teens or equipped to handle the trauma and special needs of teens.
- And the topic I want to discuss today — youth of color, and especially Black youth, are grossly overrepresented in the foster care system in every state in the US.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
“Black children are still overrepresented among youth in foster care relative to the general child population. In 2018, black children represented 14% of the total child population but 23% of all kids in foster care.”
These statistics hold up in every state in the US.
These statistics are atrocious. They illuminate the disparities in the child welfare system that we see daily.
One brilliant woman taking on these statistics is my newest she-ro — Dr. Dorothy Roberts. I could quote her 2 million times, but I’ll try to control myself.
According to Dr. Roberts in Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, it is no coincident that Black children and families are overrepresented in the US foster care system. This book has become so important in our work at CASA Nashville, my staff team has christened it the “good book” of child welfare.
“The overrepresentation of Black children in foster care is not simply an accident. All those displaced children do not ‘just happen to be Black,’ as adherents to a color-blind approach would say. The disproportionate number of Black children under state supervision results from discriminatory decision making within the system as well as racist institutions in the broader society. High rates of poverty among Black families, bolstered by stereotypes about Black parental unfitness, create the system’s racial disparity.”Dr. Dorothy Roberts
As an adoptive mother, you might expect me to push for children in foster care to be adopted by more seemingly-stable families. This is not the case, however. As much as I adore my adopted children, and can’t imagine my life or our family without them, I have mourned the fact that they weren’t able to be raised by their first parents. As an adoptive parent, I am actually more committed to children returning to their first families, as long as their families can provide a healthy and safe environment for them.
My she-ro Dr. Roberts has dedicated decades to sounding the alarm on these racial disparities in our nation’s child welfare system, and addressing our country’s adoption dilemma in Shattered Bonds as well.
“Major shifts in federal and state policy on child protection, welfare reform, and criminal justice are converging to proclaim a dangerous message: the solution to the problems of poor Black children is either to dissolved their family ties so that they can be adopted by more privileged parents or to lock them up in the nation’s expanding prison system.”
Dr. Dorothy Roberts
In her newest book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, Dr. Roberts renames the child welfare system, the family-policing system. Her bottom line: states spend astronomically more monies on policing and punishing families, than providing aid and assistance to the very families that need it the most.
As citizens, we need to push our elected officials for a more just child welfare system. Individuals working within the system, those working for Child Protective Services for example, need racial bias training to aid them in making fairer judgements when deciding to remove children from their families. And those in power positions need to spend more time and energy providing services to strengthen families, instead of tearing them apart.
The bottom line: racial disproportionality exists in nearly every system: foster care, education, the penal system, law enforcement and even healthcare. I’ll spend the next few weeks examining some of these other systems, but I wanted to start with the system that I work in and witness on a daily basis.
I hope to raise awareness and challenge us all to open our eyes to the disparity that exist right below the surface, and often hide in plain sight. Let’s do what we can to make these systems more just and balanced, if not for our generation, for our children and our children’s children.