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February 2011Vol. 12, No. 1Addressing Racial Disproportionality in One California County

Nationally, significantly greater proportions of African-American children enter and remain in foster care than children of other races. Forty-six states have disproportionate representations of African-American children in their child welfare systems, and in seven states, including California, the proportion of African-American children in foster care is four times the percentage of the child population in that State.

As part of efforts to address these concerns, in 2006, the Fresno County, California, Department of Social Services (DSS) committed to understanding the root causes of these inequities and to working in partnership with the community to find solutions. Positive Outcomes for All: Using An Institutional Analysis to Identify and Address African American Children's Low Reunification Rates and Long-Term Stays in Fresno County’s Foster Care System, a new report from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), presents the results of an analysis of agency practices.

The report identifies a number of organizational factors that contributed to the disproportionality, including a lack of understanding of the unique strengths and problems faced by African-American families, universal rather than individualized assessments and service plans, and services that tended to be centrally located in Fresno rather than in the communities where African-American parents lived. The report also includes a number of specific recommendations that were developed for the Fresno DSS in light of the identified challenges.

After the analysis, the Fresno DSS developed an action plan to address the disparities. First steps included changes in policies, services, and training for staff. A new emphasis was placed on family engagement, and the agency also established five high-priority goals that targeted community outreach, accessibility, better services, and other sweeping changes.
Read about the county's experience and ongoing changes in this report, written by Kristen Weber, Sarah Morrison, Sarah Navarro, Carol Spigner, and Ellen Pence, and available on the CSSP website:  (893 KB)