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March 2024Vol. 25, No. 2A Deeper Dive Into Diversity and Racial Equity in Child Welfare

Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

Addressing racial and ethnic disparities at child welfare agencies is vital because it supports equitable access to culturally responsive services and can improve experiences and outcomes for all children, young adults, and families. Doing so requires agencies to intentionally center equity while planning for change, implementing new programs and practices, and carrying out all ongoing agency work (Capacity Building Center for States, 2021).

The information below can help agencies hold ongoing discussions about the importance of diversity and racial equity and begin to integrate diversity and racial equity into every aspect of child welfare policy and practice. Collaborating with community partners, implementing equitable and diverse family recruitment efforts, and focusing on inclusive language can move child welfare agencies toward improving racial equity and diversity in their jurisdictions.

Work With Community Partners to Uplift the Voices of Diverse Groups

It is crucial for child welfare agencies to work with community partners to uplift diverse voices and bring awareness of rights for all groups. Youth, young adults, and families who are Black, Indigenous, or other people of color; LGBTQIA2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit, or other gender or sexual identity); experiencing homelessness; pregnant or parenting; or who identify with another group or background deserve to have a sense of belonging, normalcy, and chances to advocate for themselves. By working with community partners to provide more accessible resources, child welfare agencies will be able to better support communities, work to eliminate disparities in service delivery, and prevent unnecessary entry into the child welfare system. This type of collaboration can lead to additional benefits such as the following:

  • Integrated services offering a more cohesive approach that meets the individualized needs of diverse families
  • Increased knowledge of and access to available services and resources for diverse children and families

Child welfare agencies can use the following strategies when working with community partners to integrate diversity and racial equity:

  • Increase a shared understanding of the needs of families who are overrepresented in child welfare, promoting improved communication and information sharing.
  • Develop training programs and initiatives focused on enhancing knowledge and educating staff about diversity and racial equity.
  • Practice inclusive decision-making that incorporates the voices and perspectives of young people and families in decision-making processes and infuse diversity and racial equity into all aspects of agency work.

Recruit Diverse Foster Families

Currently in child welfare, African American and Indigenous children are overrepresented in foster care and spend more time in care than White children (James Bell Associates, 2019). Because of this problem, child welfare agencies need to think about the barriers that are preventing permanent placements and stability for children and youth from overrepresented populations.

One of these barriers is the recruitment of diverse foster parents and families, which is vital for providing children, youth, and young adults with stable, safe, and loving homes with families that share a similar cultural and racial background. Child welfare agencies can implement the following strategies to improve recruitment and retention efforts for diverse foster families:

  • Use positive messaging to recruit parents and counter negative perceptions about child welfare and being foster parents (Lisembee, 2022).
  • Tailor messaging and marketing materials to the diverse communities and cultures the agency serves (Lisembee, 2022). 
  • Collaborate with community partners to develop strong recruitment and retention efforts and improve permanency outcomes for diverse children, youth, and families (Child Welfare Information Gateway, n.d.).

Focus on Inclusive Language

Inclusive language means using language that doesn’t exclude anyone and makes everyone feel that they are welcome and valued. While working with diverse families and young people, it is critical for child welfare agencies to use language appropriately and avoid biases. Agency staff should avoid biased language, which includes “words or phrases that demean or marginalize people based on their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, class, disability, or any other aspect of their identity. Biased language may contain hidden messages based on outdated social norms and/or historical oppression, resulting in reinforced unconscious biases and stereotypes and furthered prejudice” (Carey and Hewitt, 2022, pp. 2–3).

One key benefit of using inclusive language is the development of a common understanding about terminology, which can facilitate effective communication and intentional engagement with diverse families and young adults, agency staff, community members, and other partners.

It is important for child welfare agencies to recognize that individuals and groups may have different perspectives on terms and preferences for how to refer to their own racial and ethnic backgrounds and identities. Some strategies and best practices that child welfare agencies can use to make language more inclusive include the following:

  • Use people-first language to speak in a way that centers the person rather than their condition, diagnosis, or ability level (e.g., “person with disabilities” instead of “disabled person”).
  • Use gender-neutral language (e.g., “firefighter” instead of “fireman”).
  • Be inclusive in your speech when talking with diverse children, young people, and families.
  • Keep learning about new words and ways to talk that include everyone.

Take time to reflect on how your agency strives to ensure diversity and racial equity are integrated into all aspects of child welfare. By working with community partners, recruiting diverse foster families, and focusing on using inclusive language, agencies can advance racial equity and diversity to better serve all children, youth, young adults, and families.



Capacity Building Center for States. (2017). Building and sustaining collaborative community relationships. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Capacity Building Center for States. (2021). Focusing on race equity throughout change and implementation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Capacity Building Center for States. (2023). Change and implementation in practice: Considerations for advancing racial equity through problem exploration. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Carey, M. L., & Hewitt, A. A. (2022, April). Guide to inclusive language: Race and ethnicity. District of Columbia Office of Human Rights; District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Racial Equity.

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (n.d.). Recruiting and retaining families for children and youth in foster care. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

James Bell Associates. (2019). Diligent recruitment of families for children in the foster care system: Challenges and recommendations for policy and practice. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children's Bureau.

Lisembee, M. (n.d.). Intentionality: It’s what foster parent recruitment and retention needs. Families Rising.