THREE Systemic Impacts and Special Populations

Children, Youth, and Family Serving Systems


The issue of race and culture in child welfare is often noted, but only recently has the issue begun to receive attention at the national level by professionals and practitioners. In the past decade, there has been progress, most notably by the Children's Bureau, State of Texas Department of Children and Family Services, Casey Family Programs, and the Child Welfare League of America, with significant efforts to openly and honestly address issues of race and culture. Disproportionate representation in foster care, one of the primary reflections of race and culture in the child welfare system, refers to the current situation in which particular racial and ethnic groups of children are represented in foster care at a higher or lower percentage than their representation in the general population. Children of color, belonging to various cultural, ethnic, and racial communities (primarily African American, Hispanic, and Native American), are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system and overwhelmingly experience disparate treatment, which is reflected in their having worse outcomes. The disproportionate representation of children of color in the child welfare and other social service systems (e.g., juvenile justice) is linked to social class, economic, and other factors that must be addressed to ensure that all children are fairly and appropriately served.

In this chapter, within the context of antiracist strategies for transforming the health and human services, we review the key facts and existing scholarship and discuss the broad range of issues concerning culture and race in child welfare systems. Special attention is given to providing a historical look at disproportion- ality as well as an examination of foster care inequities. The chapter ends with conclusions and a discussion highlighting implications for practice and policy improvement that will be helpful for those seeking to work toward greater equality within the child welfare system.

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