Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

February 2022Vol. 23., No. 1Spotlight on Racial Equity in Child Welfare

This issue of CBX spotlights the importance of striving for racial equity in the way the child welfare system helps children and families. Read a message from Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg about the importance of supporting Black families, who disproportionately experience oversurveillance and separation. This issue also includes valuable resources for professionals and the families they serve.

Issue Spotlight

  • Think First, Do No Harm

    Think First, Do No Harm

    Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg 

    February is Black History Month and a time when we celebrate the contributions and triumphs of Black people throughout U.S history. It is true that we have made extraordinary contributions not only to this country but to this world. It is also true that we have historically and consistently experienced racism, discrimination, mass incarceration, and oversurveillance. Oversurveillance is a word that we hear a lot in the field of child welfare. Arguably, racism and discrimination lead to oversurveillance—and oversurveillance leads to mass incarceration. In our field, oversurveillance leads to mass family separation. 

    Black families in the United States have always been surveilled. Overseers on plantations come to mind.  Their role was not only to protect the property of the slave owner but also to preserve the racial hierarchy of the workforce. Overseers were responsible for watching the enslaved Africans and exacting swift punishment for any behavior deemed punishable. We can think back to the "separate but equal" ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson, which gave carte blanche to White folks to have the legal right to keep vigil over Black choices of where to sit, eat, and drink. The "wrong" choice would, at the very least, result in humiliation and could undoubtedly result in beating, incarceration, or even death. More recently, in the 1950s and 1960s, we can consider the government's counterintelligence program, often referred to as COINTELPRO, which was the intentional and purposeful surveillance of Black freedom fighters and other political organizations to disempower Black people and maintain the racial hierarchy.

    Now, in 2022, what does surveillance look like? We know our nation has a complicated history of watching, judging, and infringing on the liberties of Black people. Eyes are omnipresent. It may look like someone calling the cops on people barbequing legally in the park, bird watching, or playing our music too loud. For our children—and for Black families impacted by child welfare—it's calling child protection when a family is struggling, instead of leaning in and pledging support to them. If a child is in imminent danger then yes, make that call. However, so many folks make that call, perhaps thinking they are doing the right thing, without even realizing the devastation that one call may cause to a family. Others may make the call because they are implicitly or explicitly biased against Black families and children. They oversee. They police. They over surveil. The data back this up; by some accounts, more than half of all Black children in this country are investigated by child welfare, and Black children are disproportionately investigated and separated from their families. 
    This month, while we celebrate the contributions and triumphs of Black people, make a commitment to ending this tragic surveillance and separation of Black families. Call out oversurveillance when you see it. Confront the bungled definition of neglect that answers poverty with carceral solutions. Save Black children from that knock on the door and that tunnel of child welfare, out of which they may never see their way. 
    James Baldwin once said, "The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side."" The plight of oversurveillance and mass separation of Black families is ugly.  Think…first, do no harm.
  • Confronting Racism, Engaging Partners, Finding Solutions

    Confronting Racism, Engaging Partners, Finding Solutions

    recent issue of CW360° focuses on racism in child welfare and finding solutions to address racist policies and practices. It expands on its 2020 issue by continuing the conversation around the pervasiveness of racism and inequality within child welfare systems and normalizing using an antiracist, historical trauma lens.

    Divided into three parts, this issue provides solutions-oriented content to create sustainable change and includes the voices of those with lived experience. The first part takes a broader look at the history and patterns of inequality and features articles that provide valuable context for understanding the inequality families and children of color face. This knowledge provides a foundation for the middle section of the issue, which includes articles featuring promising practices and examples of successful program implementation that address racism. Finally, the third part of the issue features articles on youth advocacy, checking personal biases, perspectives, and more.

    The issue also includes a discussion guide focused on self-reflection to serve as a launching pad for ideas for practitioners. There is also a resource guide for further learning. 

    To learn more, read the entire issue.

  • Series Addresses Structural Racism Through Equitable Policymaking for Black Families

    Series Addresses Structural Racism Through Equitable Policymaking for Black Families

    Black families bear the brunt of the negative effects of the systemic and structural racism that exists within many U.S. systems. These disadvantages hinder their well-being and prosperity and contribute to economic disparity that is further exasperated by the impact of COVID-19. A series of issue briefs from ChildTrends provides information and recommendations for policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and others interested in supporting Black families and children. The information in these three briefs can be used in developing policies that protect and support Black families.

    The first brief presents data on the family structure, employment, and geographic location of Black families with young children as well as contextual factors that have shaped their experiences. It acts as a foundation for the rest of the series by providing the necessary historical and current context to better understand the situation. The second brief draws on data from the first brief to present potential policy strategies that support Black families' access to education and early childhood care. The last brief explores the impact of COVID-19 on housing stability for Black families, who were already at a disadvantage due to the legacy of discriminatory housing policies.

    Access the Addressing Structural Racism Through Equitable Policy Making for Black Families series to view the three briefs.

    Recent Issues

  • July/August 2024

    Spotlight on Youth, Authentic Youth Engagement, and Lived Experience

    Spotlight on Youth, Authentic Youth Engagement, and Lived Experience

  • June 2024

    Spotlight on Reunification

    Spotlight on Reunification

News From the Children's Bureau

In this section, find the latest news, resources, and publications from the Administration for Children and Families, the Children's Bureau, and other offices within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as a listing of the latest additions to the Children's Bureau website.

Training and Technical Assistance

This section features resources and updates from the Children's Bureau's technical assistance partners to support practices and systems that improve the lives of children and families. 

Child Welfare Research

In this section, we highlight recent studies, literature reviews, and other research on child welfare topics.

  • What the Evidence Tells Us About Congregate Care

    What the Evidence Tells Us About Congregate Care

    Children with disabilities often experience maltreatment at higher rates than children without disabilities. A researcher at the University of California, Davis, investigated the maltreatment profiles of child welfare-involved children in special education and presented the findings in a recent policy brief, Welfare-Involved Children in Special Education Most Likely to Suffer Supervisory Neglect.

    Two questions guided the research:

    • What are the maltreatment profiles of child welfare-involved children who were eligible to receive special education services? 
    • Do those with different maltreatment profiles have different internalizing and externalizing behaviors? 

    Based on a sample of 290 children involved with both the child welfare system and special education, the most common class of maltreatment suffered by this population was supervisory neglect (49 percent), followed by physical abuse (24 percent), other maltreatment (e.g., educational maltreatment) (14 percent), and sexual abuse (10 percent). The maltreatment classes did not significantly relate to children's externalizing behaviors; however, certain classes did relate to internalizing behaviors. Children in the supervisory neglect and physically abused classes had higher internalizing behaviors than those in the sexually abused class.

    The researcher concludes that supervisory neglect may be the most prominent maltreatment profile due to challenges that caregivers face in supporting children with disabilities. He suggests that understanding the sociological determinants of different maltreatment profiles could help teachers and agencies provide more appropriate and effective supports. 

    Read Welfare-Involved Children in Special Education Most Likely to Suffer Supervisory Neglect for more information. 

  • Types of Maltreatment Prevalent Among Children With Disabilities Involved With Child Welfare

    Types of Maltreatment Prevalent Among Children With Disabilities Involved With Child Welfare

    recent study by the Center for State Child Welfare Data aims to examine factors related to the utilization of congregate care, such as the likelihood and stability of congregate care and if the utilization aligned with federal requirements under the Family First Prevention Services Act. The study looked at data from 15 states from 2012 to 2019 and outcomes at the child, county, and state levels.

    The data showed an overall gradual decline in congregate care utilization for children in all age groups since 2015. Additionally, on average, approximately 15 percent of children were placed in congregate care for their initial placement, but it is becoming less likely for children to be placed in congregate or foster care and more likely to be placed in kinship care. The study also looked at the stability of congregate care placement, whether the child excited congregate care to permanency, and whether children who exited to permanency reentered care.

    The authors suggest that federal policies should be interpreted in a way that recognizes differential impact at the state level. They also state that the relationship between age and race/ethnicity with regard to disparity in utilization of congregate care is tangled in the context of the local child welfare systems and services, which makes generalizations challenging. Finally, the study raises the question of what impact federal reimbursement of congregate care services has on its delivery. 

    To learn more, read Using Congregate Care: What the Evidence Tells Us.

Strategies and Tools for Practice

This section of CBX offers publications, articles, reports, toolkits, and other resources that provide evidence-based strategies or other concrete help to child welfare and related professionals.

  • Cocreating a More Equitable Child Welfare System

    Cocreating a More Equitable Child Welfare System

    Written by the Capacity Building Center for States

     "Historically, the child welfare system has not served all people equitably, and too often, poverty has been treated as neglect and child maltreatment."—Letter From Children's Bureau Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg, August 3, 2021 

    Racial inequity, disparities, and disproportionality are complex and longstanding challenges in child welfare that cannot be addressed in isolation. Rather, the effort to build a more equitable child welfare system calls for building multifaceted and deliberate coalitions with all of an agency's partners, especially the young people and families from the communities served by the agency. 

    The following considerations can help child welfare agency teams engage with young people and families with lived experience and expertise to cocreate a more equitable child welfare system.

    Start by Building Knowledge About Racial Equity 

    The work of advancing racial equity in each jurisdiction begins internally. The first step involves assessing the level of understanding among staff (and partners, such as court staff) of the concepts and history related to racial inequities (e.g., history and prevalence of racial inequity in child welfare, understanding of concepts such as institutional racism, White privilege, implicit bias). This assessment can be conducted through conversations and other methods (e.g., staff surveys). Agencies should ensure staff are made aware of the extent of these challenges in their jurisdiction and have information on how to implement or expand on existing strategies. Child Welfare Information Gateway's bulletin Child Welfare Practice to Address Racial Disproportionality and Disparity provides information and resources to help agencies begin or continue this internal work.

    It is also important to include youth and families at this stage to engage in data exploration and analysis that can help agencies better understand the particular challenges their communities face. Depending on the results, agency leaders and training staff can then decide what kind of work and supports are needed for agency staff to gain a better understanding of racial equity concepts and principles and their own implicit biases. 

    Agency leaders should be fully committed to this work. Advancing racial equity is always challenging, but without full support, encouragement, and modeling from agency leaders, it has no chance of success. Once agency leaders and staff feel they've reached a good level of understanding, they need to start slowly and build a coalition or partner with an existing coalition within their communities that is committed to racial equity. 

    Approach Communities With Humility and a Desire to Learn

    When engaging young people and families, agencies should be "wary of the single story," that is, using the experiences and expertise of a single person as a stand-in for an entire community. While finding enough people to represent the racial and ethnic diversity of the communities served by the agency may be challenging, it is crucial that the agency make every effort to do so by reducing barriers to participation. 

    It is important for agency staff working with youth and families to listen with humility and an open mind. They should be prepared for hearing new and potentially challenging information that may change their perspective and alter agency policy and practice.

    If young people and families with lived expertise are reluctant to engage with the agency, ask "why" to understand the reasons. Have they had negative experiences in the past when engaging with the agency? Is the agency offering to compensate participants for their time and arranging for them to participate in multiple modalities (e.g., virtually)? Does the agency lack internal diversity, causing community members to not feel represented or "seen" by the agency? Is the agency offering to engage in a process of true power sharing and cocreation? Understanding the reasons for unwillingness to engage and trying to mitigate them can help the agency with its internal work of advancing racial equity and also begin the process of rehabilitating the agency's reputation in the communities it serves.

    Engage With Young People and Family Members With Lived Experience as the Experts 

    Engaging with young people and families with lived experience for the agency's racial equity efforts means valuing their expertise and treating them like experts on their communities' challenges. To partner effectively with team members with lived expertise, agency staff must be prepared to collaborate on every part of the project. For example, instead of having agency staff set preconceived meeting plans and team rules, they can work with young people and family members to cocreate meeting agendas and team charters. 

    At the outset, agencies should be prepared to provide resources and support for young people and family team members that will make it easier for them to participate as equals. This includes compensating them for their time and work, offering stipends for meals and transportation (or providing them), and having a comprehensive communication plan to ensure full and active participation. Agency staff should also understand that the work of advancing racial equity may take a mental and emotional toll on participants, especially those with lived experience, and be prepared to provide support if needed (e.g., access to mental health counseling and self-care resources).

    If agencies do the work of meaningfully engaging young people and family members with lived expertise in advancing racial equity in their child welfare systems and collaboratively setting real expectations and timelines for what they want to achieve, they will find that it leads to increased trust, better project ideas, smoother implementation, and better outcomes down the road.

    The Capacity Building Center for States has developed the following resources that can help agencies meaningfully partner with young people and family members with lived experience in advancing racial equity in child welfare:
  • Issue Brief Identifies Antiracist Policies and Programs

    Issue Brief Identifies Antiracist Policies and Programs

    A recent issue brief, Anti-Racist Policymaking to Protect, Promote, and Preserve Black Families and Babies, investigates strengths-based programs and policies that support the well-being of Black families and children. It was developed as a collaborative effort between Child Trends and the Equity Research Action Coalition at the University of North Carolina Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute.

    The brief features the Protect, Promote, Preserve (3Ps) Framework. The 3Ps Framework encourages leaders to develop programs and policies using a racial equity lens to determine whether they protect Black families and children from harm, preserve Black culture, and identify family- and child-focused policies that have the potential to mitigate the harmful effects of racism.

    The brief also provides a compilation of policies and supports reviewed by the Prenatal-to 3 Policy Center that focus on trauma and harm prevention and cultural preservation and that promote health, wealth, and high-quality educational access for Black families and children.

    To learn more, read Anti-Racist Policymaking to Protect, Promote, and Preserve Black Families and Babies.


This section of CBX presents interesting resources, such as websites, videos, journals, funding or scholarship opportunities, or other materials, that can be used in the field or with families.

  • New Adoption Podcast Series From AdoptUSKids

    New Adoption Podcast Series From AdoptUSKids

    Navigating Adoption, a new podcast from AdoptUSKids in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families and the Ad Council, brings together individuals and families with lived experience and adoption experts to discuss the joys and challenges of the adoption journey through the telling of authentic stories.

    Each episode is approximately 30 minutes and presents educational and uplifting content. Topics span the adoption spectrum, including where and how to begin the process, adopting from foster care, separation and loss, trauma, the importance of support networks and youth voice, recruitment, aging out of the foster care system, and more. 

    April Dinwiddie, the podcast host, is a transracially adopted person, an expert and thought leader in transracial adoption, and founder of the mentoring program AdoptMent. She lends her unique voice as an adoptee and adoption professional to each conversation.

    Visit the Navigating Adoption webpage to access the recording and transcript of each episode and subscribe to the podcast.

  • Personal Finance Resource for Youth Exiting Foster Care

    Personal Finance Resource for Youth Exiting Foster Care

    resource curated by MoneyGeek, a website created to make personal finance more "approachable and accessible" to everyone through free content and tools, provides expert input and guidance aimed at ensuring the successful financial futures of youth exiting foster care.

    The webpage utilizes infographics, call-out boxes, and bullets to convey information in a digestible format, organized into three sections:  

    • Financial roadblocks and solutions: Five financial challenges specific to youth leaving foster care, outlined below, and the best solutions to overcome each are presented and include:
      • Inability to attend or afford higher education
      • Inconsistent financial role models
      • Economic hardships
      • Higher levels of unemployment and lower annual earnings
      • Absence of a family safety net
    • Expert advice on education and finances: Three experts—an educator and advocate, a financial advisor, and a guardian ad litem and life coach—weigh in on 11 questions, such as:
      • What are the challenges facing youth transitioning out of foster care?
      • Are there certain scholarships and/or grants for which youth transitioning out of foster care qualify?
      • What are some ways foster parents can teach youth about finances and financial planning before they emancipate?
    • Resources for youth who transition out of foster care: A variety of resources, including links to organizations, programs, tools, and educational games, are listed by topic:
      • Financial services and programs
      • Tuition assistance, scholarships, and grants
      • Technical tools, games, and apps
      • Job search support
      • Community support and advocacy organizations
      • Transition resources
      • Independent living and housing assistance

Training and Conferences

Find trainings, workshops, webinars, and other opportunities for professionals and families to learn about how to improve the lives of children and youth as well as a listing of upcoming events and conferences.