Race in Child Welfare System
The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship of race (African American and Caucasian) and start placement type (congregate care, foster care, kinship care, or other) for children first entering the Maryland child welfare system. This paper will highlight the significance and prevalence of the disproportionality of African American children in kinship care in the United States. A literature review of a previous study that examines the relationship of child characteristics (including race) of children initially placed in kinship care compared to children who had other out-of-home-placements will be discussed. A methods section will present the data source used to obtain the results and identify constraints for the study. A results section will display a demographic table, and a graph pertinent to the research question. Conclusions and limitations will also be discussed. Concluding this paper will be recommendations for promoting a more culturally competent workforce that strives to preserve families by making ethically sound decisions when placing African American children in the child welfare system.
Significance and Prevalence
The number of children in foster care has increased in recent years, climbing to 437,000 in 2016 from a historic low of 397,000 in 2012 (Child Trends Databank, 2018). The percentage of children staying in the home of a relative “kinship care” has increased steadily over the last decade, reaching 32% of children in foster care in 2016 (Child Trends Databank, 2018). Thirty-three percent of children in foster care are African American, but African American children only make up 15% of the national child population (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). African American youth are almost twice as likely as Caucasian youth to be placed with kin (Harris & Skyles, 2008). It has been argued that kinship care is one way for the child welfare system to cope with the increasing number of kids in need of foster homes (Grogan-Kaylor, 2008). Systemic practices disproportionately overuse and rely on kinship care as a permanency plan for African American children in the child welfare system instead of reunification (Harris & Skyles, 2008).
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Federal legislation supports the use of kinship care through the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 as well as through the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 (Harris & Skyles, 2008). Kinship care was intended to ensure that children preserved emotional connections with families while being placed in the least restrictive setting (widely interpreted to mean placing a child with extended family) when removed from their parents’ care (Harris & Skyles, 2008). The removal of a child from the home is a traumatic experience no matter where the child is placed. Whilst the goal of placing African American children with kin aims to assist in helping sustain emotional ties to extended family, these children are still emotionally attached to their biological parents, and many birth parents hope to be reunified with their children (Harris & Skyles, 2008). The use of kinship care for African American children creates disparities in treatment and in the quality of services provided to these families that often result in longer timeframes in substitute care (Harris & Skyles, 2008). The exhausted use of kinship care for African American children reduces opportunities for family reunification and thereby lacks a family-centered approach to policies and programs (Harris & Skyles, 2008).
Grogan-Kaylor (2000) utilized administrative data from California’s child welfare system that consisted of a sample comprised of 21,560 children first entering the California child welfare system between January 1, 1989 and December 31, 1996. Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study specifically assessed for characteristics of children (age, gender, and race) initially placed in kinship care compared to children who were placed in other forms of out-of-home care (non-relative foster care, congregate care, or residential treatment center). Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study aims to investigate how children and families who are initially placed in kinship care are different from children who have other types of initial out-of-home placements. This study included 4,831 children first entering the Maryland child welfare system between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2007. This study specifically assessed for differences in race (African American and Caucasian children) and start placement type (congregate care, foster care, kinship care, or other).
Both studies found that African American children were more likely to have a first placement type of kinship care compared to Caucasian children. Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study used logistic regression for data analysis and found that African American youth were 1.53 times as likely to enter kinship care than Caucasian youth. Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study showed that African American children (41%) were more likely to have a start placement of kinship care compared to Caucasian children (29%). This study showed that African American children (35%) were more likely to have a start placement of kinship care compared to Caucasian children (25%). In this study, 52% of the sample population was female and 48% of the sample population was male. In Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study, 53% of the sample population was female and 47% was male. There was a relatively equal distribution of males and females in both studies.
The Chapin Hall Multi-State Foster Care Data Archive was used to collect the sample for the study (The Center for State Foster Care and Adoption Data, 2012). Unidentified children from all Maryland counties whose spell began between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2007 were included in the sample. This studied examined African American and Caucasian children who first entered (first admission) the Maryland child welfare system during the spell period. The study specifically assessed for differences in start placement type for the sample population. First placement type is defined as congregate care, foster care, kinship care or other. The hypothesis for the study is that more African American children had a start placement of kinship care when compared to Caucasian children. No constraints were placed on the child’s age, gender, or place entry type. Findings from this report are based on African American and Caucasian children who first entered care during January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2007.
Table 1 provides an overview of the demographic characteristics of the sample. The total sample size for the study was 4,831 children. Of the total sample, 68% (3,307) were African American children entering care for the first time and 32% (1,524) were Caucasian children entering care for the first time. There were no differences between groups but there were slightly more females than males in the entire sample, 51% of the African American youth and 54% of the Caucasian youth were female. There was a relatively equal distribution of children among all age groups. For both African American and Caucasian children, 21% of the children were between the ages of six and eleven years old. End placement varied based on race. Caucasian youth (45%) were more likely to have an end placement of foster care compared to African American youth (38%). African American youth (38%) were more likely to have an end placement type of kinship care compared to Caucasian youth (33%).
Figure 1 is a graphic depiction of start placement type based on race. The figure shows that Caucasian youth (49%) were more likely to have a start placement of foster care compared to African American youth (37%). African American youth (35%) were more likely to have a start placement of kinship care compared to Caucasian youth (25%). Start placement to congregate care for African American children (23%) was slightly higher than Caucasian children (20%). A start placement type of other was relatively the same for African American children (5%) and Caucasian children (6%). As hypothesized, more African American children had a start placement of kinship care compared to Caucasian children.
Conclusions and Limitations
The research indicates that a child’s race impacts whether a child would enter kinship care. The information introduced in this study show that African American children who first entered care between January 1, 2005 and January 1, 2007 were more likely to have a start placement of kinship care compared to Caucasian children. The data in this study appears to be adequate compared to Grogan-Kaylor (2000) previous research; however, attention should be paid to the limitations presented in this study, which requires further attention. Generalizations based on this study cannot be made to children nationwide in foster care, as this study gathered data from Maryland’s foster care and adoption system, Chapin Hall. Another limitation of this study is that it constrained specifically for African American and Caucasian youth, children of other races were not included in the study. Therefore, findings cannot be generalized for other races because they were not included in the sample.
This study utilized administrative child welfare data from Maryland that only provided information on formal child welfare placements and does not take into account children who were placed with kin through informal arrangements such as those not court ordered. Another limitation of this study was that Chapin Hall’s database does not provide information for dates exceeding December 31, 2010. Therefore, going forward this study would not be able to analyze start placements for youth starting after December 31, 2010. Grogan-Kaylor (2000) study used a large sample size of 21,560 children. While large samples are necessary to observe current trends in administrative data, smaller sample sizes would allow more detailed information on placement of children in kinship care to be collected.
Kinship care is a cultural norm and long-standing tradition for many African American families. The results of these studies may reflect that children in the African American community are often viewed as the collective responsibility of the community and therefore kinship is encouraged as an act of family preservation (Smith & Devore, 2004). The disproportionate number of African American youth in kinship care may reflect caseworkers taking advantage of the willingness of African American families to assume the responsibility for kin. Agencies may feel less urgency to pursue a more permanent living arrangement for the child because they are with kin; however, the child remains in state custody. Thus, kinship care becomes the permanency plan for a substantial amount of African American children (Harris & Skyles, 2008).
Permanency planning is the foundation of the child welfare system (Smith & Devore, 2004). According to Smith and Devore (2004), “Permanency planning is, the systematic process of carrying out, within a brief time-limited period, a set of goal-directed activities designed to help children live in families that offer continuity of relationships with nurturing parents or caretakers and the opportunity to establish lifetime relationships (p. 440).” Often, African American families and children in the kinship care system do not see this goal come to pass. Youth entering child welfare and kinship care come from varying backgrounds of poverty, oppression, and ethnic minority status (Smith & Devore, 2004). African American children in foster care receive less access to comprehensive service plans and permanency placements (Smith & Devore, 2004). Over the years, as the number of kinship placements increased, distinct differences in treatment between kinship care and traditional foster homes began to emerge (Smith & Devore, 2004).
The relationship between the African American community and the legal system has been strained for years and there is a lack of trust between the community and the child welfare system (Smith & Devore, 2004). In many cases, African American families are uncomfortable with the state’s involvement with their families.
One suggested method of strengthening awareness around cultural and racial matters is through the use of study circles (Smith & Devore, 2004). The model of study circles has been implemented in various communities and agencies across the country to foster racial healing and enhance race relations (Smith & Devore, 2004). The Community Wide Dialogue (CWD) program in New York uses the study circle model and found that participants who completed the curriculum felt a deeper understanding of the realities of racial differences and reported having less short-term relationships with people from diverse backgrounds (Smith & Devore, 2004). Study circles involve bringing diverse individuals together for six to eight sessions, lasting approximately two hour per session, led by a facilitator to talk about how racial and cultural differences have impacted their lives. Goals of the group consist of promoting the understanding of cultural histories; appreciating one another, finding allies, transforming the community and committing to take social actions that will disrupt racism and cultural disparity (Smith & Devore, 2004). This model can be implemented within community agencies as a means of creating a more culturally competent service community (Smith & Devore, 2004).
African American children and families deserve culturally competent practitioners who put cultural humility into action when considering placements and permanency. Restructuring the way we think and work within the agency is necessary in making families the center of our practice. In order to advocate on behalf of clients, social workers must first be willing to look at ones own implicit biases. Social workers must be willing to look at these facts and make decisions that do not make their jobs easier or caseloads or manageable but make decisions that will improve the lives and outcomes of the families they serve. As practitioners, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to keep families together. We must respect our clients and not misuse or overuse kinship care as a permanency plan. We must be willing to help families overcome barriers in order to enable reunification.
- Child Trends Databank. (2018). Foster Care. Retrieved from:
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- Harris, M. S., & Skyles, A. (2008). Kinship care for African American children:
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Race in Child Welfare System. (2021, Jun 05). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/race-in-child-welfare-system/
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