• June 2021
  • Vol. 22, No. 6

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Reunification for Young Children of Color Who Were Removed Due to Parental Substance Use

The opioid epidemic continues to affect the child welfare system. Data from the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) shows that removals due to parental drug use increased 60 percent between 2007 and 2017, and the Child Maltreatment reports show that the percentage of children reported to child protective services with parental "drug abuse" increased from 18 percent to 31 percent between 2010 and 2019. An article in Child Abuse & Neglect, "Reunification for Young Children of Color With Substance Removals: An Intersectional Analysis of Longitudinal National Data," discusses a study that used data from AFCARS to determine whether disparities in removals and other outcomes existed between children of color and White children.

African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native children are overrepresented in the foster care system. This disproportionality has been linked to risk factors such as poverty, parental substance use, mental illness, and others. Coupled with the biases in reporting, investigation, placement, and discharge, children of color have poorer outcomes than White children. However, opioid use disorders are more common among White people than people of color.

This study looked at differences in the number and proportion of foster care entries and the likelihood of reunification based on the intersections of three risk factors:

  • Child age
  • Child race/ethnicity
  • Substance removal status

The findings showed that increases in the numbers and rates of children entering foster care because of parental substance use is primarily driven by increases among White children (a 47- to 57-percent increase among White children compared with an 11- to 29-percent increase among children of color, depending on age). Although there are more White children coming into foster care because of substance use, findings from the study show that they have better reunification outcomes compared with children of color. It suggests that African-American parents may be accessing fewer substance use services—or benefiting less from them—than White parents. The authors note we can work to reduce racial disparity by using research to understand the mechanisms behind this issue and by hiring and training culturally competent and diverse child welfare professionals.

Read the full study, "Reunification for Young Children of Color With Substance Removals: An Intersectional Analysis of Longitudinal National Data," to learn more.


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