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Many say it’s time to fight racial prejudice in foster care

Cheri Williams regrets starting her career as a child welfare caseworker in 1998. Systematic racism is the main reason.

“In the 15 months I was an investigator, I probably took about 100 children out of the house … many of them were colored children,” said one of the largest adoption and foster care agencies in the United States today. Williams, vice president of the company, said. state.

“Decades later, I realized how much harm I had done. I learned more about implicit prejudice and the value of helping my family,” she said.

Prejudice and racism are widespread in the child welfare system. Black children are disproportionately entrusted to foster parents and become more debilitated before being adopted, reunited with their parents, or getting older from the system.

Williams oversees the national program of Bethany Christian Services. Bethany Christian Services released a report on Wednesday detailing the racial disparities in the program and participating in a wide range of calls to combat them. As black families get caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic and the country faces racism, Bethany leaders and others involved in the child welfare system are better off, especially for families at risk. We believe that the time has come for a fundamental change as fewer children are taken away through support. From their home for negligence.

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“It’s a great opportunity to stop the madness of unnecessarily removing children,” said Ira Lustbader, Chief Program Officer and Director of Litigation for Children’s Rights, a national advocacy group. “This is an urgent matter of racial justice.”

Bethany’s report is the first large-scale study of foster care activities based on the racial breakdown of children. The study reviewed hundreds of cases of programs in four cities (Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Grand Rapids, Michigan) and compared pandemic trends with 2019 trends.

In the findings: Black children accounted for 32% of Bethany’s program children, compared to 13% of the total US child population. Black children also had the lowest reunification rate with biological parents, at 19%, compared to white, multi-ethnic, and Hispanic children.

Bethany made some recommendations. In particular, governments at all levels should expand support for families at risk before their children are removed and step up efforts to reunify children if they are removed. I did.

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Bethany also urged a reassessment of 1994 federal law prohibiting child welfare organizations from considering race as a basis for refusing to adopt or foster.

Although the main purpose of the law was to allow more white families to adopt black children from foster parents, Williams said that this seemingly colorblind philosophy “does a lot of harm to children of color.” There is a possibility. “

“If the family didn’t have the space to discuss race, it was a source of great pain,” she said, changing the law to allow social workers to assess their parents’ ability to perform transracial adoptions. Prompted.

There is often a keen awareness of racial inequality in the system among black adults who adopt black children from foster parents.

Atlanta lawyer Leslie Eason, 42, has adopted a teenager from a group home and has almost completed the adoption of one of his friends. Both are 17.

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“I don’t want to criticize those who are trying to do good, but I think these group homes are terrible places,” Eason said. “In the end, it’s a place of last resort, with no resources to help these young people become the people they need.”

Another Atlanta woman, Bridget Griffin, adopted a three-year-old black girl from foster parent and became a foster parent for many other children, including teenage girls and babies.

Griffin left the system at the age of 19 and worked twice as a child in foster care for a total of about 12 years before working at a strip club for several years. Things changed after she started volunteering in a group home and enjoyed working with the girls.

Although she is growing up as a foster parent, she sees evidence of racism taking root in the child welfare system.

“You can see the difference between the courts. Two children come for the same type of negligence,” she said. “Judges see them differently, social workers treat them differently. Unfortunately, white parents have more sympathy … it’s not fair.”

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Bethany was founded in Michigan in 1944 and initially ran an orphanage in Grand Rapids before expanding into adoption and foster care. It currently serves more than 30 states and approximately 12 countries.

This is the country’s largest evangelical Christian child welfare institution, with some of the policies they perceived over decades to focus too much on adoption rather than family protection. It was carefully watched by children’s advocates. Bethany has evolved in recent years and announced that it has completed its international adoption program and will begin servicing LGBTQ parents nationwide.

“Bethany has historically been a monopoly organization,” Williams said. “We have continued our journey to become much more comprehensive … we recognize the value of keeping our families together and expanding the coalition of the people we work with.”

Vivek Sankaran, a law professor at the University of Michigan and advocate for the rights of children and parents in child welfare cases, said Bethany’s report “hopes we are finally aware of the harm we have done to our families. I have. “

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“We need an unlikely voice like Bethany to stimulate this conversation,” he added.

Sankaran states that the pandemic has exposed the structural inequality that blacks face in housing, employment and criminal justice. This is “the dynamics that drive families into foster care.”

He said the area of ​​his hometown of Ann Arbor, which was the hardest hit by COVID-19, is the black district, which accounts for the majority of child welfare cases in the city.

“Child welfare agencies cannot tackle this on their own,” he said. “They need to work with other institutions to develop a more comprehensive plan.”

Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers, said there was growing concern within the organization on racial issues and urged members to a series of virtual town halls on racism, white privileges and police reform.

“People are taking advantage of this moment to make a difference,” McClain said.

Copyright 2021 AP communication. all rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Many say it’s time to fight racial prejudice in foster care

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