Color of Child Welfare Policy:
Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services
Ruth G. McRoy
Center for Social Work Research
The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, Texas
Overrepresentation: A Definition
 If
a particular racial/ethnic group of
children are represented in foster care at
a higher percentage than they are
represented in the general population
 14.7% of children under 18 in US are AA
 38%
of children in foster care are AA
 A situation
in which a particular
racial/ethnic group of children are
represented in foster care at a higher
percentage than other racial/ethnic
 (i.e.
If 5% of all White children are in care,
then 5% of African American, Hispanic etc.)
According to AFCARS report, March
31, 2000
 588,000
children in the foster care
 White,
non Hispanic 35% (207,948)
 Black, Non-Hispanic 38% (226,363)
 Hispanic, 15% (88,939)
 AI/AN Non Hispanic 2% (9,330)
 Asian/PI NI Non-Hispanic (6,213)
 Unknown 8% (49,207)
Disparities not Unique to Child Welfare
 Criminal
 Health
 Mental
 Homelessness
 Victims
of violent crime
 Special
Criminal Justice & African Americans
 12.4%
of the U.S. population
 48.2%
 40%
of entire prison population
of juveniles in legal custody
 Overrepresented
in local jails
Health Care & African Americans
 Rate
of diabetes is more than three times
that of whites
more than seven times that of
 Infant
 Life
mortality twice that of whites
span differential
Treatment Differentials
Institute of Medicine
Minorities are less likely than
whites to get…
proper heart medication, heart bypass surgery
kidney dialysis & transplants
Gap greatest between blacks & whites
Blacks on Medicare more likely to have their
lower limbs amputated
Mental Health
 Recent
Surgeon General’s report on
 Disparities
in availability, accessibility, &
quality of mental health services for racial
and ethnic minorities
Homelessness & African Americans
 44%
of homeless population
 3.5
times more AA than whites are
 Overrepresentation
children & youth
includes many women,
Victims of Violent Crime
 AA of
all ages are more likely to be the
victims of serious violent crime than are
 At
greater risk of knowing someone who
had suffered violence
 Greater
risk not associated with SES
differences or differences in area of
From Underrepresentation to
African American children
Excluded from most orphanages /placed in
Free foster homes
1910 National Urban League advocated for
equitable services for AA children
1923—Most child welfare institutions still
Ira De A. Reid of Urban League
Discrimination against black parents in
Income maintenance
Medical care
Services to unwed mothers
Day care services
Arbitrary enforcement of welfare policies
“Man in the house”
Illegitimate child
home suitability clauses
In New York City between 1927 and 1939,
Number of cps cases of Caucasian children
declined by more than 31%
Number of CPS cases of AA children rose by 147% (Piven
and Cloward, 1971)
In 1939, 23 of 27 Protestant custodial care
agencies took only Caucasian children in NYC
AA children often had to be labeled juvenile criminals to
qualify for any out of home placement services (BernsteinLost Children of Wilder)
Maas and Engler
 reported
that more AA children in care
and less likely to be adopted
Culturally insensitive workers
Removing children from
“undesirable family situation”
Placing in foster care
81% of children in out of home care in 1963
there because parents were unmarried
came from broken homes
Most were African American & Indian
Jeter reports black children…
 Remain
in foster care for longer periods
of time than white children
 Not
offered adoption on equitable basis
 Experience
ongoing discrimination in
service provision
 Served
by public agencies
 Private
agencies serving white children
Responses in 1970’s–80’s
Position Statement
 1974
Child Abuse Prevention &
Treatment Act
 1978
Indian Child Welfare Act
 Adoption Assistance
 “reasonable
& Child Welfare Act
1980’s & 90’s–present
 Growing
Numbers of Children in Care
 1982
 262,000
children in care (52% Anglo)
 1993
 429,000
(38% Anglo)
 2001
 588,000
(35% Anglo)
New York AFCARS 1998
 17%
of child population in New York is
 53,555
children in care
 49% African American
Reasons for out of home
placement—Child Maltreatment
 Increase
in maltreatment
 Increase
 Lindsey
in poverty
(1991) & Pelton (1989)
 Parental income is best predictor of
child removal & placement
 Majority
of children in care from single-parent,
low-income households
Differential Attribution
& Labeling Bias
 Physicians
more likely to attribute injury
to abuse in lower income homes
 Often
product of poverty
 Parents
under scrutiny/more likely to be
“The reason for placement is that the family,
frequently due to poverty, does not have the
resources to offset the impact of situational or
personal problems which themselves are
often caused by poverty, and the agencies
have failed to provide the needed supports,
such as baby sitting, homemaking, day care,
financial assistance, and housing assistance.”
—Pelton, (1989) pp. 52–53
Correlates of Out-of-Home Placement
Rates of child poverty rising
Impact of welfare reform
Substance abuse
Teen parenthood
Disproportionate Poverty
 Blacks
represent about 12.8% of
population yet 23.6% of Blacks are poor
 Income differential
 Median
 AA 29,740
 Whites
 50%
female headed AA households
 avg.
income $17,316
Child in poverty is
26 times more likely to drop out of school
160 times more likely to give birth as a teen
18 times more likely to be killed by gunfire
60 times more likely to suffer reportable abuse
or neglect
46 times more likely to be placed in foster care
—According to Annie E. Casey Foundation
Substance Abuse
Parental substance abuse
42% of children who were victims of abuse &
In 77% alcohol was the problem substance
In 23% cocaine was the problem substance
Alcohol and drug related cases more likely to
result in foster care placements than other
cases (DHHS, 1999)
Black women more likely to be reported for
prenatal substance abuse
more likely to have children removed
Imprisonment of Parents
1.74 million children have at least one parent
in prison
Disproportionately high numbers of AA in prison
9.7 % of Black men ages 20–29 in prison
 428,999 black men
2.9% Hispanic men
1.1 percent of non-Hispanic White men ages 20–29
Can lose eligibility for TANF
Jail Sentences for African Americans
Both men & women typically serve more time
than whites for same offense (Dept. of Justice, 1995)
Children likely to be separated from parents
longer than white children
Termination proceedings after 15 of past 22
months (ASFA, 1997)
Visitation is problematic
location not accessible
Disparities in Conviction Rates
Two thirds of crack cocaine users are Whites
and Hispanics
Persons most likely convicted of possession
were AA
84.5% African Americans
10.3% Whites
5.2% Hispanics
Crack cocaine
Harsher penalties than for powder cocaine
 Child
maltreatment reporting
 Service
 Kinship
 Family
—Inequities reported from Courtney
 Exit
 Length
of care
 Placement
 Adoption
 Majority
of racial differences reported
were between African Americans and
Anglos rather than any other group
—Inequities reported from Courtney
Barth develops model of caseload flow of children
 Report/no
 Investigation/no investigation
 Substantiation/no substantiation
 Case closed/no services/in home
services/out of home care (kin,foster)
 Reunification/adoption/remain in care or
age out
Several recent studies
 NIS-1,NIS2,NIS3—estimates
incidence of child abuse & neglect
 Reported
o differences in incidence of child
abuse & neglect by racial group
 Issues
raised about sample selection bias raise
questions about validity/possible undercount
Barth suggests multiplicative model
“There are small to medium increases in the
disproportionality by population experienced by AA
children as they move through the child welfare
system, which results in substantial differences in
their representation in child welfare compared to
their representation in general population”
Argues greater risk for child abuse & neglect in AA
Reentry rates highest for AA children
“Proportionate to need”—Barth
 “No
compelling reason to assume that
this disproportionality is not generally in
the best interests of the children served”
Service Provision
 Lack
of culturally competent child
protective service workers
 Most
have no training in service
provision to African Americans
 Most
lack training in risk assessments,
child dev., parenting, etc.
Service Provision
 Greater
substantiation on AA & Latino
 Zellman
(1992) found survey participants
more likely to believe report should be
made on child of color described in vignette
than white child
Service Provision
 AA children
more likely to remain in care
longer, less visitation, fewer contacts
with workers
 AA children
least likely to have plans for
contact with families, fewer services
Service Provision
 Less
likely to be…
 adopted
 reunified
non-kinship care
 offered
family preservation services
 Types
of services temporary & not sufficient to
raise families out of poverty
 Despite
advantages of minority
specializing agencies,few agencies have
used or established such programs
Shortage of AA Adoptive Parents
 Lack
of sufficient minority & trained staff
 Knowledge
 Screening
of subsidies
out process
 Transracial
Decision-Making Points
 Worker/supervisor
level (investigation)
 Reporting
 Decision
 Service
to investigate
 Placement
Judicial Level
 Experience/knowledge
 Legal
 Advocacy
Worker/Supervisor Level
 Placement
 Knowledge/experience
 Bias
 Caseload
 Perception
of available homes
Impact of Other Systems on Child Welfare
 Economic
 Criminal
 Legal
justice system
 Welfare
 Reasons
for disproportionality
 Person-
or community-centered
 Agency-centered
 Societal
Person- or Community-Centered
Child, Family, and Community
Location or residence
Poverty/uninsured/lack of resources
Lack of knowledge to access services/legal rights
Community or individual mistrust
Visibility hypothesis—visibility might propel into
foster care or lack protections
—Jenkins, Diamond, Garland,
 Lack
of culturally responsive services
 Lack
of Minority staff
 Lack
of accessible locations
 Failure
to reach population
 Decision
 Myths/stereotypes
about AA families
 Discrimination/racism
 Funding
 Missouri
Fed. Judge stated in case on
racial disparities in sentencing
“Perceptions of AA as dangerous, different,
or subordinate are lessons learned and
internalized completely outside of our
awareness, and are reinforced by the
media-generated stereotyping.”
Other Factors
Failure of domestic policy has led to racial
isolation and concentration of the black poor
in inner cities
Black migration to urban areas
Lack of responsiveness re jobs, housing, services,
educational programs
Growth of prison industry
Insufficient drug treatment programs
Changes Result From
Court cases—class action suits/civil rights
Media attention to institutional discrimination
Governmental reports
Mandated changes in training for
judges,workers, other staff
 Acknowledge
 Child
intersystemic disparities
protection or
 Promoting
children’s welfare

Clinical Issues Rising out of Child Welfare Research in