For weeks now, the civil unrest over police brutality has gripped the nation, forcing Americans to confront the issue of systemic racism in policing — and elsewhere.
Where else does racial inequality show up? Sadly, in the foster care system.
Black children are disproportionately represented in foster care. This is due to a myriad of interrelated socioeconomic factors, but studies suggest the biggest reasons are the higher rate of poverty among African Americans, as well as racial bias in adoption and lack of access to support services.
According to 2014 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans make up 13.8% of the total child population, yet they account for 24.3% of children in foster care. By contrast, Whites make up 51.9% of the child population and only 43.4% of foster care children.
African American children across the nation are more than twice as likely to enter foster care compared with White children, and they stay in foster care about 9 months longer, according to an influential study released in 2007 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (“African American Children in Foster Care”).
At Royal Family Kids, we see firsthand how institutional racism contributes to more African American children experiencing abuse and neglect, pushes more of them into foster care, and leaves them marginalized by the adoption process.
In this moment of national reckoning and social unrest, we want to consider the millions of children who are also victims of racism and bigotry, and suffer from abuse and neglect because of it. This needs to change, and Royal Family Kids intends to help by focusing on building up healthier households to prevent the conditions that lead to child abuse.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the significant reasons for the racial disparity in foster care:
Prevalence of poverty: It’s understood among child welfare experts that poverty is the biggest factor driving a greater share of Black children into the foster care system. An estimated 20.8% of African American families lived below the poverty line in 2018, compared to 8.1% of Whites. An environment of poverty and all of the issues related to it such as a higher likelihood of substance abuse and children being raised by a single parent make it more difficult to establish a safe, stable home.
Lack of support services: People living in poverty have a harder time accessing crucial social services that support families and keep children who may be vulnerable to abuse and neglect safely at home. For example, the lack of affordable public housing is often cited as one reason more African American children enter foster homes. Affordable housing makes it easier for families to stay together and to get in-home services, all of which keeps children from being removed from their families. Other critical services include drug abuse treatment and job training. There’s evidence that Black families in particular are denied or not offered support services even when they let child welfare authorities know they need them.
Racial discrimination within the system: Finding appropriate adoptive homes for Black children is more challenging than for other racial groups. First, there are relatively fewer African American families willing to adopt. But there’s also evidence of racial bias in how families decide which children to adopt. Additionally, families’ distrust of the child welfare system can contribute to more Black children entering foster care.
“African American families’ distrust of the child welfare system stems from their perception that the system is unresponsive to their needs and racially biased against them,” according to the authors of the Annie E. Casey study. “Child welfare officials and researchers said that many African Americans in poor communities perceive child welfare caseworkers as more intent on separating African American parents from their children than on working within their communities to address child safety issues.”
What we’re doing to help
At Royal Family Kids, we intervene in the lives of foster care children through camps and mentoring programs in order to improve life outcomes and to transform communities. Our programming is aimed at interrupting the cycles of neglect, abuse and abandonment for every child entering or already a part of the foster care system.
Our programs facilitate interpersonal and community connectivity. At the heart of our mission is the belief that all lives can be changed, with joy, play and evidence-based interventions leading the way.
The disparate numbers of African American children coming through our camps pains us. Not because we don’t want to help or because we don’t love seeing their faces, but because we see the insidious hand of racism and bigotry at work.
At a time when racial equality is receiving national attention, we want to do everything we can to lift up the lives of children who have been historically marginalized. Because Black foster youth lives matter, too.