The Racial Disproportionality Movement in Child Welfare: False Facts and Dangerous Directions
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CitationElizabeth Bartholet, The Racial Disproportionality Movement in Child Welfare: False Facts and Dangerous Directions, 51 Ariz. L. Rev. 871 (2009).
AbstractThis article addresses the issue of Racial Disproportionality in child welfare - the disproportionate representation of black children in the foster care system as compared to their representation in the general population. This is now the hot issue in the child welfare world, with a powerful coalition of groups known as the Casey-CSSP Alliance claiming that Racial Disproportionality is the central problem that state and federal policy makers should address. This Alliance includes the foundations which provide virtually all the private funding available for research and advocacy in child welfare, joined by organizations and individuals who with these foundations have played a major role in shaping policy over the past decades. The Alliance takes the position that Racial Disproportionality results from discrimination by child welfare decision makers. It argues for reducing the number of black children removed to foster care to achieve what it terms "racial equity" - the removal of black children at the same rate as white children. The Alliance has already had significant impact. Child welfare leaders proclaim that this is the major issue of the day. Many states have accepted the Alliance's lead in analyzing the Racial Disproportionality problem and seeking solutions. Important federal officials and agencies have endorsed the Alliance's approach, as have leading private child welfare organizations.
This article analyzes the issues central to this important issue in the child welfare world. It urges that we must understand the nature of the Racial Disproportionality problem before jumping to solutions. If black children are removed to foster care at disproportionate rates because they are disproportionately victimized by serious parental maltreatment, then the Alliance's proposed solutions will put black children at risk. If disproportionate maltreatment of black children is the underlying problem, then solutions must lie in early prevention efforts, providing greater support to families at risk of falling into the kind of dysfunction that leads to maltreatment. Careful review of the evidence reveals that black children are indeed disproportionately victimized by parental maltreatment. This is to be expected given that black families are disproportionately characterized by the risk factors associated with maltreatment, including severe poverty, problematic substance abuse, and single parenting. Prevention programs with a proven record of success like intensive early home visitation for new parents can be expected to reduce maltreatment. This should in turn lead to a reduction in Racial Disproportionality, without putting black children at undue risk. To date there has been no adequate debate on the issues at the heart of the Racial Disproportionality problem, because the Casey - CSSP Alliance has overwhelmingly dominated the discourse. This article is designed to give policy makers a full understanding of the issues so that they can take action addressing Racial Disproportionality that will protect rather than endanger black children.
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