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April 2010Vol. 11, No. 3Engaging the Community to Address Disproportionality

In an effort to address the disproportionate number of African-American children entering the child welfare system in Texas, the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) embarked on a project to engage community members in understanding this issue and proposing solutions. These efforts are documented in a recently published article in The Journal of Community Practice.

In the article, authors Joan Rycraft and Alan Dettlaff indicate that the project came about as a result of (1) DFPS working with the Casey Family Programs' Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Reducing Racial Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System and (2) State legislation requiring child welfare reform. Researchers chose two communities with high numbers of African-American children involved in the child welfare system, and they conducted eight focus groups with community members (including parents, community leaders, kinship caregivers, and others). Additional focus groups were conducted with legal and child welfare professionals.

The focus groups identified four barriers to collaboration between child protective services (CPS) and the community:

  • The community's perception of CPS as unhelpful and only interested in removing children
  • Lack of outreach to the community by CPS
  • Caseworkers' lack of familiarity with the community and its resources
  • Lack of collaboration between CPS and existing community agencies

A number of solutions to these barriers came out of the focus groups, including:

  • Image building
  • Creating a community presence
  • Learning about the community and its resources
  • Collaborating with other service providers.

The authors also suggest that CPS agencies need a strategic plan for community engagement and that schools of social work and professional social work organizations can play a role in promoting the involvement of community stakeholders. Community engagement and involvement can then lead to a collaborative approach to addressing disproportionality and other issues.

The complete article, "Hurdling the Artificial Fence Between Child Welfare and the Community: Engaging Community Partners to Address Disproportionality," appeared in The Journal of Community Practice, Volume 17, and is available for purchase online from the publisher: