Racial Discrimination in Child Welfare Is a Human Rights Violation—Let’s Talk About It That Way
American Bar Association
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Child welfare systems perpetuate the oppression of Black, Indigenous, and other children and families of color through traumatic surveillance, investigation, and removal practices. The failure of the U.S. to dismantle racist systems and revoke laws that lead to family separation is an urgent civil and human rights issue.
Although the child welfare system purports to protect children’s safety and well-being, decades of research and lived experience reveal a long history of subjecting families of color, particularly Black and Indigenous families, to unjust and racist practices and policies.
I have experienced the intergenerational trauma that stems from Black families being torn apart by the child welfare system.”
Under current policy, state agencies receive reports of alleged child maltreatment, investigate these allegations and, often, remove children from their homes and place them in the legal custody of the state. At every stage, Black and Indigenous families face racial discrimination and unequal treatment. Moreover, the majority of children are separated from their families due to “neglect,” a broad and poorly defined category that often results in children being removed for concerns related to poverty rather than abuse.
Black and Indigenous children are greatly overrepresented in the foster care system, remain in foster care longer, experience more frequent placement moves, and are less likely to be adopted. Black parents are two times more likely to experience termination of their parental rights. Black children face worse outcomes when transitioning out of the child welfare system. Black and Indigenous youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness and incarceration at far higher rates than their peers.
These unequal outcomes are not coincidental. They are the product of federal and state laws, regulations, and policies that have exacerbated racial inequality within child-serving systems. The current child welfare structure continues to make it legally easier for Black and Indigenous children to be separated from their families and has accelerated timelines and financial incentives for state agencies to permanently separate children and parents.
Every child has a right to a family. The targeted regulation of Black and Indigenous families is unjust and a civil and human rights violation warranting immediate attention and action.
Dismantling structural racism in child-serving systems is a priority for Children’s Rights. Our advocacy has garnered national attention, leading to increasing calls for an end to racist practices at the front end of child welfare systems. Our recommendations prompted the UN Committee on Eliminating Racial Discrimination to call on the US to amend or repeal laws that have a disparate impact on families of color. Our legal cases actively address racial disparities within state systems and prioritize family reunification.
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In the US, Black children represent 14% of the general population of children but make up 22% of children in foster care. 53% of Black children in the US will be investigated as potential victims of child abuse by age 18, as compared to 37% of all children. This data reflects racist structures within child welfare systems. The result is the continued unnecessary surveillance, investigation, and removal of Black children from their families, frequently for issues of poverty rather than abuse or neglect.
Pledge to help end the unjust surveillance, investigation, and removal of Black children from their families, which will dramatically reduce the number of children entering state foster care and prevent the lifelong trauma that systems impose on children.
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