Reflections of a baby addict: (We have to address disproportionality in child welfare)

I love babies. My children call me a baby addict. I love their coos, their squishy cheeks, their ability to wrap grown people around their tiny fingers…and most of all, I love their potential. So much potential to create, heal, inspire…wrapped up in a blanket and often with a stinky diaper. All kids have it (the potential, and the stinky diaper)…but we have a child welfare system (a system created to protect children) that creates inequity and in this sense goes in opposition to its direct mission.

I worked in child welfare before I had my kids. On a purely personal level, my deep desire is that all kids have someone to love them as much as I love my kids. I don’t have a perfect track record as a mother but I love them with my whole heart. Every kid deserves that kind of love. On a professional level, my deep desire is to address disproportionality in child welfare systems.

Disproportionality means that there is an underrepresentation of some groups, and an overrepresentation of others. What we hear most about in terms of this issue is the overrepresentation of African American and American Indian/Alaskan Native children (they are more likely to be removed from their parents’ homes, more likely to have placements in group care settings than foster homes, etc). That’s my focus here today.

It is important to look at disparity in how we work with families and children, because disparity in approach leads to inequity in outcomes. If you train social workers or other helping professionals, or teach people who want to be these things in the future, I hope the resources at the end of this post help you frame a discussion and class session.

If you are not a social worker or other helping professional, you still have a voice in this and a role to play. Every state has a public child welfare system that should be concerned about this issue. Look on their website and see what they are doing to address disproportionality. Ask them to fully fund resources that work with families and children at the stages of prevention and early intervention. Ask them how they train their employees to be culturally sensitive. If you want to volunteer in child welfare, no matter where you live in the US, you could be a CASA (court appointed special advocate) or serve on the foster care review board (FCRB) for your county.

There are so many ways to make a difference in the life of a child!

Here’s a general collection of resources on this issue:

And an amazing Ted Talk: To Transform Child Welfare, Take Race out of the Equation

And here’s a 13 minute video from C-Span on racial disproportionality in child welfare:

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