• June 2011
  • Vol. 12, No. 5

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Inua Ubuntu: A Community Response to Disproportionality

Similar to many communities across the country, the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) in Pittsburgh, PA, recognizes the problem of racial disproportionality within its child welfare system, particularly the overrepresentation of African-American males in foster care. Because attempts to address the problem over the last decade have not significantly reduced rates of disproportionality, the county is implementing an innovative new project described in a paper written by Marcia Sturdivant of Allegheny DHS: "Inua Ubuntu: A Community Response to Disproportionality Rates of African American Male Children in Child Welfare."

In Swahili, "inua" means "to raise and lift up," and "ubuntu" translates to "I am what I am because of who we all are." The author explains that these words exemplify the purpose of the Inua Ubuntu project: To encourage formal and informal African-American leaders in Pittsburgh to take collective action to reduce disproportionality in the county's child welfare system. After gauging community interest through a series of informational meetings, Allegheny DHS released a request for proposals and awarded contracts to three community agencies to plan and implement culturally competent child welfare services to respond to the unique needs of their communities. The goal of Inua Ubuntu is to empower communities to build upon the strengths of African-American families involved with child welfare to reduce children's rate of foster care placement.

According to the author, the Inua Ubuntu project is driven by the idea that services are most effective when they are delivered by someone who lives in the family's community and understands its culture. Services are guided by four main principles:

  • Open communication
  • Commitment to services that promote prevention, child protection, family preservation, and permanency
  • Respect for and embracing of African people and culture
  • True community partnerships and collaborations that reject autonomous system authority

Allegheny DHS refers all African-American males birth to age 18 who come in contact with the child welfare system to the community agency to perform a joint case review. An Inua Ubuntu child welfare caseworker and a cultural consultant visit the home together to conduct a safety assessment and identify the family's strengths and needs. The consultant then develops and implements a case plan and performs ongoing monitoring. Under this model, the community agency is responsible for primary supervision of the case; the county only provides support when needed.

Services provided by Inua Ubuntu consultants are intensive and include daily face-to-face contact, case reviews every 15 days, and support of tangible needs such as clothing, food, housing, child care, and transportation. To reduce or eliminate the need for further county involvement, the consultant uses a diversion strategy to offer the least restrictive of the following services:

  • In-home services and community-based supports
  • Short-term (30-day) respite services
    • Kinship care
    • Foster care
    • Group home care

Although Inua Ubuntu has only been in operation since March 2010, unpublished results indicate high client satisfaction and successful prevention of foster care placement for African-American males and their siblings. Based on the project's initial success, the author encourages agencies seeking to address disproportionality to consider initiatives in which staff more closely reflect the cultural, spiritual, religious, and racial backgrounds of the communities they serve.

"Inua Ubuntu: A Community Response to Disproportionality Rates of African American Male Children in Child Welfare," by Marcia Sturdivant, is found on pages 1,824-1,843 of the monograph Beauty Is in the Details: A Global View of Persons of Color. The monograph was published in 2010 and includes selected presentations from a joint conference of the National Association of African American Studies (NAAAS), the National Association of Hispanic and Latino Studies, the National Association of Native American Studies, and the International Association of Asian Studies.

Download the monograph on the NAAAS & Affiliates website:

www.naaas.org/monograph2010.pdf (8,720 KB)

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