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November 2003Vol. 4, No. 9Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare

Recent research indicates overrepresentation of children of color in the foster care system is a widespread concern. A new paper by Casey Family Programs, Mitigating the Effects of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality highlights practices that might alleviate the effects of this disproportionality on children and families already involved with the system by improving permanency and well-being outcomes. These practices include:

  • Family Group Conferencing -- Involving families in the decision-making process increases the potential for enabling extended family to gain custody of children, locating kin who may provide permanency, assuring birth families that children will remain safe and well, and providing an opportunity for families to contribute their ideas about cultural issues.
  • Reunification -- To ensure all children for whom reunification is an appropriate option are returned to their parents' custody in a timely manner, the report recommends agencies use strengths-based assessment methods; undertake local, State, and national advocacy efforts; explore alternative practices to improve timely substance abuse treatment for birth parents; and provide post-reunification services and supports.
  • Placement With Relatives -- Steps that can be taken to increase placement of children with relatives include using a broader definition of "relative," asking the child's birth family for information, employing family group conferencing to identify kin placements, and improving supports available to kinship caregivers.
  • Diligent Recruitment -- Strategies for recruiting potential foster and adoptive families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children for whom these homes are needed include identifying the right communities to target, using child-specific recruitment efforts and family group conferencing, and employing team decision making.
  • Maintaining Family Connections -- When nonrelative placements are necessary, it is important to maintain the child's connections with birth parents, siblings, and other kin by providing the maximum amount of visitation and placing children with siblings whenever possible.
  • Achieving Timely Permanency When Reunification Is Not Possible -- Attempts to find permanent families are often discontinued when children have been in out-of-home care for years, but child welfare professionals are discovering diligent child-specific recruitment efforts combined with continued work with youth can lead to successful permanent placements.
  • Culturally Competent Practice -- Acknowledging the importance of diversity builds mutual respect and trust among families and professionals. This can be achieved by seeking consumer input, engaging in ongoing organizational assessment, and aiding in the development of a healthy ethnic identity for children being served.

The report also suggests the child welfare system can examine and employ some of the strategies being used by the juvenile justice, education, and health care systems to decrease the disparity of outcomes for children who are served by multiple systems.

View the report on the Casey Family Programs website at

Related Items

Find more information on disproportionality in child welfare in previous issues of Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Seeking Causes: Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare" (Aug 2003)
  • "Disproportionality in Juvenile Justice System May Have Roots in Child Welfare" (Dec 2002/Jan 2003)