In Los Angeles and across the nation, there are large disparities in foster care and Black children are faring far worse than all others. Former California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass considered foster care a top priority and introduced legislation to increase foster care funding and expand programs, while utilizing millions of dollars in federal savings that would enable California to help foster youth up to age 21. Another of her bills allowed California to receive funding for family-connected grants. Key Bass legislation became law. (An example of the magnitude of the growing foster care problem is Los Angeles’ predominantly Black Crenshaw High School, where over 40% of the students are in foster homes Unfortunately, many other Los Angeles schools have high foster care student populations.)
The following excerpts are from a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Its primary mission is, “To foster public policies, reforms and community support that effectively meet the needs of vulnerable children and families.”
It is past time to focus on disparities faced by African American children in our country’s foster care system. Contrary to post-racial society rhetoric, race still weighs heavily on unification and permanence. Children of color, especially African American children, fare far worse than whites on measures such as placement in foster care, length of stay in foster care, number of moves in foster care and length of time to permanence.
African American children, more than any other group, are more likely to exit the foster care system without being adopted, although a permanent home should be the right of every child. The president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation insists, “The basic human need for a family connection that can be counted on for life must be recognized as essential for all children and families, including those who interact with the child welfare system.”
According to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report, African American children also stay in foster care longer because of difficulties in recruiting adoptive parents and greater reliance on relatives to provide foster care who may be unwilling to terminate the parental rights as the child’s parent or who may need the financial subsidy they receive while the child is in foster care.
Research has shown that African American children are more likely to experience maltreatment than white children and are greatly overrepresented among the child welfare population, especially while in foster care. In addition child maltreatment reports on children of color are more likely to be confirmed than reports on white children.
African American children are also more likely to languish in foster care, despite research proving that there is no real difference in the overall incidents of child abuse and neglect between African American and white children within similar income groups. Even for infants, disparities face African American children in foster care and they are less likely to experience reunification than white infants. And, African American children over ten-years of age are significantly less likely to return home than white youth.
Practice and Policy Recommendations: Change federal fiscal policy to better promote permanence and well-being. To make a difference in child welfare outcomes, the federal government will have to strike a balance between funds dedicated solely to out-of-home care and those that can be used more flexibly to keep families.
Promising proposals include: giving states the option of receiving funds solely for out-of-home care in exchange for more flexible and innovative funding that can be used to prevent out-of-home placement while limiting states’ financial risk if child welfare caseloads increase. The federal government must also take a leadership role in reducing racial disparities found throughout the child welfare system. Children of color, Blacks especially, are more likely than white children to be placed in foster care, less likely to receive the services they need, and more likely to remain in care for a long time, even when the effects of poverty and the type of maltreatment alleged are taken into account,
Finally, child welfare information systems remain a generation behind the times, hampering the efforts at all levels to track and improve performance. The federal government should support the development and dissemination of new information technologies for child welfare, combining mobile computer technology with worker-level decision-support and practice guides.
Broad dissemination of the kind of information presented in this report, pressure on public administrators and elected officials, collaborating with families and interested others, all are indispensable for foster care reform.
(Annie E. Casey Foundation e-mail: www.aecf.orgj)
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org