by Rachel Shaw
During Black History Month, we take a moment to acknowledge the need of African American children throughout the US who are over-represented in foster care. We want to focus on giving them a fair chance at the greatness they are capable of. So, here at NCFA we’re thinking about and educating on the facts, needs, and responses necessary to give these kids the chance they deserve at a bright future.
The Center for the Study of Social Policy released a report, Changing Course: Improving Outcomes for African American Males Involved with Child Welfare Systems (authored by Oronde Miller, Frank Farrow, Judith Meltzer and Susan Notkin) which provides some excellent insight we wanted to share.
- 27% of those entering foster care are black even though black children comprise only 15% of the U.S. child population.
- African American male children were 2.5 times more likely to be in foster care than their non-African American male peers.
- Adolescents (age 13-17) comprise the largest group of African American males in foster care. This contrasts with the age distribution for all children, which trended slightly younger.
- The placement experience for African American males is concerning; with 21% in group homes and other institutional settings in 2010 compared with 15 percent of all children and more frequent placement moves.
- Exit to permanent families is less likely for African American males than for other children.
- The percentage of African American males who “age out” of foster care each year has almost doubled during recent years, from seven percent in 2001 to approximately 13 percent during 2010.
What does this experience look like?
- Based on the experiences of the young men interviewed in this study who spent some portion of their lives in foster care, many did not know why they’d been removed from their parents’ homes or separated from their siblings, nor what would have to happen in order for them to return home. This, they acknowledge, contributed to their early anger, fear, lack of confidence in the professionals and others trying to help them and hesitance to accept their new placement in foster care.
- African American youth behavior has been identified as a major barrier to permanence, yet young men say that their behavior is often misunderstood and based on negative stereotypes that fail to account for the trauma in their lives.
- Counseling and therapy is of little interest and benefit to many African American youth, reflecting what some researchers describe as “cultural mistrust” between African American youth and many mental health professionals.
- For many of the African American youth whose experiences are reflected in this paper, their cumulative experiences in the child welfare system reinforced their isolation and their feeling that their presence was a burden to the professional adult figures to whom they were most closely connected. As one of the young men noted, “Everywhere I went, it felt like I was either ignored or I was a problem.”
The authors said, “We argue that changed attitudes and high quality supports on behalf of the young men portrayed in this paper be given highest priority. The child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems can, at their best, offer the pivotal opportunities that help young males move along the pathway to education, employment and healthy family relationships. Conversely, if these systems are not effective, they can be way stations on the cradle-to-prison pipeline that blights too many futures.”
What can be done?
- Establish an overarching organizational commitment to race equity that is embedded in the agency’s vision, mission, values and operations.
- Incorporate a focus on improving child and family cognitive, social and emotional well-being as benchmarks for success.
- Understand and respond to the complex ways in which structural racism shapes the experiences and well-being of African American males, including both implicit bias and explicit forms of racism.
- Implement a developmentally appropriate practice strategy that is trauma-informed and reflects the research findings about the protective and promotive factors that can help youth overcome adversity and thrive.
- Create or strengthen partnerships between the child welfare agency and community groups, private organizations and advocates in order to secure access to good health care, early childhood supports, a good education and preparation for jobs and careers.
- Create ways for the voices, aspirations and input of African American youth to be visible and influential in all aspects of programming and accountability.
- Reinforce and sustain the work by making permanent structural and systemic changes regarding a results focus in service delivery, data collection and accountability, administrative infrastructure and human resource development.