Disproportionate placement means
that children of color are placed into the child welfare system when their white
counterparts in similar instances are not. The fact that often these families do
not have the resources to act on behalf of their children increases the
disparate or negative outcomes such as longer stays and lower rates of family
When there is a recommendation that a child be placed into the child
welfare system, there are several factors that lead to that decision.
Foster children of color come primarily from families living in poverty.
Many times a child of color is placed into the system not just
because of maltreatment, but because of the underlying biases of the
decision makers. These families of color may be socially, and
economically disadvantaged, but those factors should not influence
decision of whether the children can safely remain at home.
A study performed by the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse
and Neglect, suggests that there are no significant racial differences
in the substantiated incidences of maltreatment. There is no
difference between races in the likelihood that a parent will abuse or
neglect a child. However, there is a great difference between the races
in the likelihood that a child will be removed from home and placed in
foster care. This suggests that race influences the institutional response to
maltreatment, resulting in higher
substantiation and placement rates for children
of color. In fact, children of color are 3-4 times more likely to be placed than
their white counterparts.
Most cases of child maltreatment involve parental neglect, which is usually difficult to disentangle from the conditions of poverty. Social work professor Duncan Lindsey concludes, “Inadequacy of income, more than any factor, constitutes the reason that children are removed.” Studies have shown that black families were more likely to be reported to child welfare authorities than white families for equally severe injuries to their children. A recent study of missed cases of abusive head trauma discovered that doctors
failed to detect the abuse twice as often in white children as minority children. The conclusion drawn is that if one assumes the finding that no racial differences in the incidence of maltreatment is accurate, higher reporting rates for black children must result from systematic bias.
Families of color, proportionately, are more disadvantaged by the current welfare system, therefore the length of stay in out-of-home placement is longer and family reunification and exit rates are lower when compared to their white counterparts. We believe the system will ultimately be improved for all children and families if we can help referring agencies to better understand resources and help families better access these resources and remove the preconceived biases when key decisions are being made.