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In every step of child welfare, Black children are disproportionately represented

Posted at 11:40 AM, Nov 29, 2021

DENVER — Hundreds of thousands of American children spend time in foster care every year. In virtually every state, at virtually every step, there are disproportionately more Black children in the system. Not only are they more likely to be in foster care, they’re less likely to be adopted. And they’re far more likely to become an adult without finding a permanent home.

“This is not a local problem," said Minna Castillo Cohen, who oversees child welfare in the state of Colorado. "This is a challenge that we know that we need to be able to address at the national level.”

Castillo Cohen found, in her state, Black children are disproportionately represented throughout the system, and more and more so the deeper they get. In Colorado, Black children were three times as likely to age out of foster care. That means neither returning to their biological home nor finding an adoptive home.

"We found that 80% of child abuse and neglect is actually neglect," she said, "which most likely is a lack of resources for families, and that could be housing or child care, food, clothing.”

The demographic data on the child welfare system is rich and thorough. The implications are hard to ignore, and the numbers reflect a simple truth: you’re more likely to be adopted if you’re white than if you’re Black.

In 2018 Congress passed the Family First Prevention Services Act, which is geared toward helping families stay together safely and address the roots of racial disparity. But those roots are decades old.

In 1990, a study found that although white and Black women were equally likely to test positive for drugs while pregnant, Black women were ten times as likely to be reported to Child Protective Services. A study in 2000 found white children are five times more likely to be adopted.

“There’s stigma associated with child welfare," Castillo Cohen said. "So, it’s about myth-busting. When 80% of our families are involved in our system because of the lack of resources, really it’s the ability for our systems to provide those resources.”