Child Welfare in African Americans

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Child welfare is defined as a variety of services that are put in place to protect children and families by providing the necessary support for childcare (Lewandowski, 2018). In the United States, child welfare agencies are responsible for coordinating key services aimed at preventing cases of child abuse and neglect, providing essential services to families in order to help them protect and care for the children effectively and support the wellbeing of the at-risk children especially those living in foster homes (Gilroy, 2018).

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Lastly, child welfare agencies work with children, youth and their families to create connections in terms of reunification and adoption. The role of children welfare systems is multivariate. Primarily, the systems receive and investigate reports of known or possible cases of child abuse or neglect. Another purpose of child welfare is to arrange both adoptive and independent living services for children under foster care. Furthermore, the child welfare services may recommend for abused or neglected children to remain in their house depending on the nature of the claims. Children and families have access to the state or county-based child welfare agencies where the services ae coordinated. The paper is research into the child welfare system. The paper specifically focuses on the African American children within the system and the ways in which their needs are met or not met by the current system. To sufficiently understand the welfare system from multiple points of view, other ethnic and racial groups including the Caucasians and Hispanic youth are examined.

Racial Disparities in Child Welfare


In the United States, there is significant disparities in the prevalence of child abuse and neglect based on reporting behavior (Dakil, Cox, Lin & Flore, 2011). The study suggests that the country’s child protection system mainly comprises of more minorities. Cases of physical abuse are more prevalent among the African Americans at 25% followed by the Asians and multiracial children at 21% (Dakil, Cox, Lin & Flore, 2011). Despite making up the majority racial group, the whites record a relatively lower prevalence of physical abuse of 20%. The research findings also suggest that children from minority ethnic groups are likely to die from physical abuse compared to whites (Dakil, Cox, Lin & Flore, 2011). Similarly, disparities exist in terms of the abuse-related interventions that are provided.

In a related study, Lee, Cronley, White, and Mun (2012) found that significant variations are evident in terms of the consequences of childhood maltreatment. The researchers conducted a comparative analysis for behavior associated with childhood abuse such as heavy drinking, depression, and violence between the young African American and white adults. The findings correspond to those of Dakil, Cox, Lin, and Flore (2011) whereby the prevalence of child maltreatment was found to be higher among the African American than the whites. Nevertheless, the study did not find any significant differences in terms of severity, type, and chronicity of abuse (Lee, Cronley, White & Mun, 2012).

In addition to the prevalence of child maltreatment, racial disproportionalities also exist in child welfare. A report by the Children’s Bureau (2016) indicates that some racial and ethnic populations are overrepresented in the child welfare system compared to the general population. The disproportionality occurs across the country. However, there are significant differences across the states in terms of racial and ethnic disparities in child welfare representation.


Children of color tend to have a disproportionate need for child welfare services. The reason is that the population is more vulnerable in relation to specific social indicators including criminality, homelessness, unemployment, mental illnesses, poverty, violence and substance abuse (Casey, 2011). Although different explanatory theories are used to describe the racial disparities in child welfare, the existing evidence suggests that poverty is the most pervasive social indicators of racial disparity in child welfare (Brissett-Chapman, 2018). Considerable research has demonstrated an existing connection between poverty and child maltreatment. Child-directed aggression is more common among African American caregivers compared to the other racial and ethnic groups (Casey, 2011). The variation can only be explained on the basis of socioeconomic differences. However, no research evidence suggests African American parents mistreat, neglect or abuse their children more frequently compared to the other racial and ethnic groups.

Some of the theories that have been put forward to explain the racial disparities in child welfare include the parent and family risk, the multiplicative model that demonstrate the coexistence between family risk and child welfare and racial bias among the child welfare agencies and professionals (Boyd, 2014). Additional factors such as the experiences of poverty and oppression, biased decision-making and factors in the child welfare system including the infrastructure of the agency, resources, and leadership provide a key explanation about racial disparities in child welfare.

Among the African American families, the age of the child is a primary factor that predicts the type and severity of maltreatment and the period of stay in foster care. Racial disparities also determine how the child welfare system responds to African American families with babies (Bartholet, 2009). Research suggests that African Americans infants are twice as likely to be maltreated and have the case investigated for them to enter foster care than the whites.

Racial Bias/Discrimination

Research shows that the child welfare system is not only characterized by racial disparities but also outright discrimination and basis based on race and ethnicity. According to Casey (2011), community reporters are more likely to report families of color to child welfare agencies compared to white families. As a result, African American families are more likely to be investigated and placed (Casey, 2011). Furthermore, families are less likely to be reunited (Casey, 2011). The study indicates the presence of a broad pattern of inequitable availability of services and resources for the minority communities.

Bartholet (2009) provides an alternative explanation for the racial variation in the number of children in child welfare. According to her, disproportionate victimization of African American children implies that the rate of removal is high and proportionate to the rate of victimization (Bartholet, 2009). Thus, in order to achieve racial equity and reduce the rate of removal of African American children, it is imperative to address the underlying risk factors that are associated with maltreatment. For instance, the black families record a higher prevalence of maltreatment associated with factors such as severe poverty, single parenting and substance abuse (Bartholet, 2009).

Differential treatment by race is a factor that has infiltrated the child welfare agencies resulting in a greater number of children of color being referred to the welfare system. Additionally, Casey (2011) suggests that there is a possibility of child welfare staff being bias when dealing with families of color. Such factors affect decision-making processes. Nevertheless, the biases may not necessarily be intentional. Moreover, there are certain policies and practices inherent in organizations working with vulnerable children that may promote institutional racism (Casey, 2011). Participants child welfare investigations tend to have racial inclination in terms of their perception of child abuse cases. For instance, Hispanic participants tend to rate child maltreatment situations more severe compared to the Chinese (Casey, 2011). Examination of the child protection intake supervisors shows that scenarios of child abuse involving White children had a lower rate of acceptance for investigation compared to those involving Hispanic and African American children (Casey, 2011). Lastly, racial and bias among the child welfare staff can also be understood based on racial and cultural sensitivity.

Geographical Elements

Disparities in child welfare is closely related to racial, economic and geographical factors. According to Roberts (2007), children from the poor black neighborhood are overrepresented in the child welfare system compared to other geographic regions. Case studies conducted by Roberts (2007) on Woodlawn, a black neighborhood in Chicago indicate that the region has a high rate of child foster care placement. Geographical elements are closely tied with sociopolitical, economic and racial bias. In the case of Woodlawn, Roberts (2007) suggests that family and community relationships are significantly affected by intense agency involvement.

?Poverty has also contributed to the emergence of financially motivated foster parents (Roberts, 2007). These findings indicate the close link between socioeconomic distribution and geographical elements that contribute to discrimination in child welfare. Since socioeconomic distribution is tied to racial disparity, the minority communities are further affected by the disparities in the child welfare system. Different states and counties across the United States have adopted varying policies that directly or indirectly affect child welfare systems. Among the county-specific factors that impact on the racial disparities on the rate of child placement in foster care include family meetings, case practice development, workforce diversity, the introduction of blind removal meetings, community collaboration and changes in the court system (Pryce, et al., 2019). Counties and states that introduce such reforms in the child welfare system are more likely to address the racial disparities on the rate of foster care placement.

Child Welfare Practices and the Role of Professionals

From the findings on the causes of racial disparities in child welfare, the role of the professionals working in the child welfare system has been adversely mentioned. Therefore, it is important to make key changes in the system particularly the distribution and conduct of the professionals working under it. According to Pryce, et al. (2019), among the strategies that have been effective in promoting cultural competence and reducing racial disparities is ensuring workforce diversity. The review has shown that racial biases, as well as cultural incompetence among the staff members working for child welfare agencies, can be a potential source of racial disparities when making decisions on whether to place allegedly abused or maltreated children under foster care.

One of the most effective ways to determine whether some of the racial and ethnic groups receive incongruent treatment in the child welfare system is by estimating disproportionality which essentially refers to the share of the racial and ethnic group in a service or a program. Ensuring proportionality in the child welfare system ensured that all the ethnic groups are well-represented while racial bais is minimized. Secondly, all the staff members working for child welfare agencies should undergo training in cultural competence to address the issues of racial prejudice and favouritism. This is necessitated by the literature findings whereby more child abuse cases involving the African American families were likely to be investigated leading to placement in foster care compared to cases involving the white families. Miller and Esenstad (2015) suggest the need for workforce development and capacity building in child welfare as a strategy to address the issue of discrimination. Some of the training programs recommended for the child welfare staff are designed to help them understand the history and impact of racism and the experiences of the families, children and the community in general (Miller & Esenstad, 2015). Furthermore, training should focus on the practices and policies within agencies and organizations to address institutional racism which is common in child welfare.


According to Gilroy (2018), factors such as staff principles, values, and availability are essential in ensuring child safety, well-being and permanency. Child welfare officers often misconceive alleged maltreatment claims because they do not have a connection with the community which adversely impacts on their cultural competence. Thus, the officers should be readily available and in contact with the members of the community to accurately make decisions on child placement in foster care without discriminating based on race. Furthermore, involving the parents/primary caregivers in child welfare system is a vital part of securing the safety of the children regardless of their racial background.

The professional competence of the social services workers is demonstrated by the ability to proactively respond to the evolving needs of the community (Gilroy, 2018). The findings imply that the public child welfare system workers should have adequate knowledge of the historical context within which the system and the community operates. Lastly, critical self-examination as well as according to the utmost treatment to families is key to addressing the existing racial disparities in the system.

Out-of-Home Care

Racial disparity is evident in both the rate of placement of children of color in foster care as well as the length of time in out-of-home care (Jackson-White, n.d). According to the Children’s Action Alliance (2008), there is also the differential treatment of children in the child welfare system depending on factors such as race and ethnicity. A case study of Maricopa County indicated that more than 60% of the children in foster care are children of color (Children’s Action Alliance, 2008). While Caucasian children and their families are offered services in their own home, children of color are more likely to spend more time in out-of-home care.

Different organizations such as MEPA have worked towards the removal of the racial barriers to the placement that adversely affects children of color. According to, African American children were initially denied placement with white parents as a result of policies that required same-race adoptive parents (Bartholet, 2009). Other racially biased policies that make it difficult for children of color to find adoptive parents include the introduction of new screening criteria for both foster and adoptive parents (Bartholet, 2009). Such policies tend to prolong the length of time in out-of-home care among the African American children who are the majority in child care systems.


The goal of the child welfare system is to reunify children placed in foster care with their birth parents (Wulczyn, 2004). Nevertheless, many issues surrounding the reunification process are underaddressed. The study suggests that in the last decade, the patterns of reuniting children with their birth parents has changed significantly. While adoption tends to happen earlier, the reunification process takes longer to happen depending on factors such as race and age of the child (Wulczyn, 2004). For instance, compared to children in other age groups, both infants and adolescents are less likely to be reunited with their primary caregivers. On the other hand, the comparison between the Caucasian and African American children indicate that the latter are less likely to be reunited with their families (Wulczyn, 2004). Although the Federal law requires reasonable efforts to be made in reuniting the children with their parents, the interpretation varies at the local level with racial biases notable from in the reunification process.

Reports by Miller and Esenstad (2015) confirm cases of racial bias against the African American children in terms of the length of stay in out-of-home care and reunification among children in foster care. Although the findings are yet to be produced in the national data, Miller and Esenstad (2015) suggest that similar patterns of racial discrimination have been revealed among the Hispanic children.

Kinship Care

Winokur, Holtan, and Batchelder (2015) explore the effects of kinship care on safety, wellbeing, and permanency. The study findings suggest that children in kinship care have a lower prevalence of behavioral problems compared to those in foster care (Winokur, Holtan, & Batchelder, 2015). Furthermore, kinship system of care is associated with positive mental health outcomes, less placement disruption and higher rates of reunification (Winokur, Holtan, & Batchelder, 2015). Promoting kinship care and resulting in foster care as a last resort is an effective strategy to address the issues of racial discrimination among African American children in the child welfare system.

Ideally, the “reasonable efforts” provision by the Federal to ensure that the process of child removal from their primary caregiver is done through a thoughtful assessment is rarely adhered to especially in cases whereby children are taken away by police officers or caseworkers in circumstances that constitute an emergency. In such cases, kinship care, which is the most effective form of child placement compared to foster care is rarely observed. In addition, options such as child protection without removal from home are rarely assessed in emergency cases.

African American Child Welfare Act

Various legal proposals have been suggested by different states in an effort to reduce the number of African American children being placed in foster care. Among them is the African American Family Preservation Act that was proposed in Minnesota in 2018. The Act proposed for the creation of a special council within the Department of Human Services in order oversees that the operations of the department especially in relation to the treatment of the African American children.

On the other hand, the African-American Child Welfare Act outlines the disproportionality in the child welfare system, biases, and disparities in the child welfare system (Weaver, 2007). Furthermore, the African-American Child Welfare Act sets the goals that address both the legal and social needs of African American children. The end goal of the Act is to help improve family relationships within the African American communities (Dixon, 2008). While the Act is significant in providing the much-needed balance in the child welfare system, enacting federal laws that addressed the needs of one race may have a negative outcome since the law should create a counterbalance to address the disproportionality in large scale whereby all racial and ethnic groups are not left behind. Although there is a general argument that the policy will not be effective addressing the disparities completely, it will provide a framework for the black community to work towards addressing the social factors that contribute to the child placement.


?The study explores various dimensions of child welfare among African American children in the system. Racial disparity is a consistent problem at all levels of the human social services whereby the African American children have the highest rates of placement in the foster homes where they are likely to remain longer with lower chances of reunification compared to the other racial and ethnic groups. There is no alternative plausible reason behind the high number of African American children in the child welfare system apart from systemic racism and bias given that African Americans are a minority community. Furthermore, the fact that there is no research that shows African American families are more likely to mistreat a child compared to other communities. Therefore, racial discrimination should be addressed by putting in place systemic interventions in child welfare agencies.

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Child Welfare in African Americans. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved from