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Black History Month: Racial Disparities in Child Welfare

The child welfare system, like all systems in the United States of America, suffers from the consequences of racism and inequality. The evidence is clear here in Los Angeles County where Black children are three times overrepresented in the foster care system compared to white children. To understand why Black youth and families are targeted by the child welfare system, it is important to recognize the intersectional factors that increase their vulnerability.

According to a report from the Children’s Defense Fund in 2021, 63% of cases where a child was removed from their home were due to accusations of neglect. Neglect, in many cases, is conflated with the consequences of poverty. Low-income families often work longer hours, lack access to affordable childcare, and struggle to support their families financially. Black families make up 22% of those living below the poverty line, despite making up only 13% of the general population. Instead of providing economic support to parents to address the systemic issues, children are removed from their homes and placed into foster care.

Roughly one-fifth of abuse and neglect reports come from the police, often from low-level, nonviolent interactions. Historically, neighborhoods with predominantly Black families have been overpoliced, resulting in a troubled relationship between Black people and law enforcement. Due to inequitably distributed surveillance, not only does over-policing contribute to the overrepresentation of Black children in foster care, but also the underrepresentation of children experiencing abuse and neglect in other communities. Once contact is made with child welfare, families are put under a greater microscope and forced into a vicious cycle of state involvement.

Cases of neglect and maltreatment rely greatly on the discretion of social workers, law enforcement, judges, and others involved in the identification and classification of child welfare cases. What may be cause for removal to one caseworker could be a referral to supportive services for another.

The implicit biases of decision-makers can have a negative effect on youth of color in child welfare. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that half of all Black children in California experienced a CPS investigation before age 18, three times more Black children spent time in foster care compared to white counterparts, and parental rights were terminated in 3% of Black families’ cases, compared to 1% for white families with similar circumstances.  

Systemic racism is an institution-wide issue that no one agency or advocate alone can change. Reforms must be made at state and federal levels to provide more funding for preventative services that help to keep struggling families together safely. At David & Margaret Youth and Family Services, we are committed to providing culturally diverse services that support youth and families already involved in the child welfare system. We do this through our foster care and adoption agency, parent trainings, transitional services for young adults aging out of care, mental health services, and case management. Our staff undergoes regular diversity training to work towards eliminating implicit biases in decision-making processes, as well as training in trauma-informed practices that put children and families’ safety at the forefront of what we do.

We cannot do it without your help. Becoming a high-quality foster parent, one who provides love, support, and advocacy for a child’s needs continues to be the greatest way to help youth in foster care. Donating to David & Margaret Youth and Families Services is another great way you can make a difference. Your donations ensure youth and families have access to the culturally diverse services offered through David & Margaret that empower children, youth, and families while they navigate the child welfare system.

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