On Thursday October 11, the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences (MSASS) and the Schubert Center presented “Continuing the Conversation and a Call to Action: Understanding the Role of Poverty in Race Equity in Child Welfare.” Presenters included DCFS director Patricia Rideout, JD, Barbara Needell, PhD ,of the Center for Social Services Research at the University of California at Berkeley, David Crampton, PhD, of the MSASS Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, and Donna L. Parrish, MA, LPC, of the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect.
The event examined the causes of and solutions for the disproportionate number of minority children in the foster care system when compared to the proportion of minority children in the population as a whole. While it is clear that a disproportionate percentage of minority children are involved in the child welfare system, it is unclear whether this is due to bias within the system or due to minority children’s increased exposure to risk factors such as poverty. A review of current research can be downloaded here.
Speakers for the event traced the historical origins of higher rates of African American families living in poverty, data on child poverty from Cuyahoga county and how the child welfare system can better serve minority children. Needell spoke about the various factors that create racial disparities, including higher rates of poverty, lower rates of homeownership, racial bias within the system, and lower access to services and healthcare systems. She then described how many of these factors can be traced back to the racial bias in local implementation of the GI Bill, which increased racial inequalities by aiding white veterans with buying homes and building family wealth while veterans of color were largely excluded. Needell also presented the findings of a study following all children born in California until they were age five. The study found that the disproportionality of minority children in the child welfare system is due to the disproportionate number of minority children in poverty. These findings suggest that efforts to decrease the disproportionality in the child welfare must first focus on reducing the disparate numbers of minority children in poverty.
Crampton spoke about the origins of disproportionality in child poverty in Cuyahoga County. He described how school closings in Shaker Heights focused mainly in low-income area, reducing low-income parents’ ability to be easily involved with their children’s schools. This led to African American students having much lower graduation rates than white students. Crampton also discussed the importance of providing cultural competency training that teaches providers how to interact with families of different cultures.
After Needell and Crampton’s presentations, Parrish led attendees in a call to action to define the most important next step in reducing disproportionality in the child welfare system. Responses included providing families easy access to necessary services prior to when a complaint is filed and improving providers’ understanding of cultural differences in the communities they serve. Groups discussed the areas that should be considered to better serve children and families, including family structure and dynamics, the generational effects of poverty and abuse, improving engagement of fathers and examining biases within the system. Participants also identified barriers such as a lack of financial resources for kinship caregivers, difficulties preventing parents with felony convictions from obtaining housing and services, and cultural biases.