Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

1Jun/120

Let’s keep it moving… We’ve got real work to do!

Thank you for checking out this new blog!

This is a space that we'll be using to share perspectives and ideas about the work of supporting children and families, and transforming this nation's child welfare, juvenile justice, education and other child and family-serving systems.  As we get up and running, we'll also be adding a page to feature your ideas, perspectives and stories.  If you're interested in submitting an essay for posting, please contact me directly, via email, at omiller@ifcwb.org.

On some days, we'll have some fun on here, and on other days we'll be all about business.  But ALWAYS... we'll be about the work of telling a story with integrity that promotes the well-being of our children and families.

In the meantime, please share information about this resource with others, and please share your perspectives and ideas.

Now with that, let's get things started...

 

So here is some of what we know…

According to the 2011 Kids Count data report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, approximately 14% of our nation’s child population is believed to be African American, approximately 1% is believed to be Alaska Native and Native American, approximately 24% are believed to be Hispanic or Latino, and approximately 53% are believed to be white.

As of September 30, 2010 (according to the most recent federal estimates available to the public), there were an estimated 408,425 children in foster care throughout the United States.  Of these children, approximately 117,610 (29%) were believed to be African American, approximately 7,839 (2%) were believed to be Alaska Native / Native American, approximately 84,727 were believed to be Hispanic or Latino (21%), and approximately 165,135 (41%) were believed to be white.

Based on this data, we can estimate that African American children, as well as Alaska Native and Native American children, continue to be over-represented among this nation’s foster care population (in comparison to their respective proportion of the nation’s overall child population).  Moreover, these two groups of children are more than twice as likely as white children to be in foster care on any given day.  Hispanic or Latino children are still estimated to be “proportionately” represented in this nation’s foster care system, and slightly more likely than white children to be in foster care.  These numbers are estimates, however, and don’t reflect what could be a far greater or lesser level of racial “disproportionality” and disparity at the state and local level.  It also doesn’t speak to the quality and responsiveness of supports and services to children and families, which for each of these racial and ethnic groups, including Hispanic or Latino children and families, tends to be pretty poor.

The data presented above just speaks to levels of involvement in this nation’s foster care systems.  We also know, and will share more about in subsequent blog postings, that children and families in these racial and ethnic groups tend to experience far worse outcomes than their white peers as it relates to education and schooling experiences (including academic outcomes, special education involvement as well as disciplinary dynamics), involvement with this nation’s juvenile/adult/criminal justice systems, access to quality health and mental health supports and services, as well as other health-related outcomes.  These dynamics have persisted over time, and in some cases have gotten / continue to get worse.  These outcomes and dynamics are unacceptable!  And it’s up to us to make things better!

 

Here is some of what I think about it…

As you can see from the data, African American and Native American children are still greatly over-represented in this nation’s foster care system.  These trends are not new, however, and continue to persist even with the improvements that have been made in many child welfare systems throughout the country, and despite the significantly reduced size of this nation’s foster care population.

Efforts to highlight and fix these problematic racialized outcomes and dynamics are also not new.  Organizations such as the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), the Black Administrators in Child Welfare (BACW), and the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) have been working tirelessly on these issues for many years.  Their persistence is the reason many of these outcomes and dynamics have been getting the increased attention they deserve.  Their advocacy is also a large part of how I have come to know so much more about these issues and dynamics.

Indeed, these are three among a number of other organizations, locally and nationally, that have pushed for more responsible systems, and more accountability for changing these bad outcomes.  I single these three organizations out, however, because they have long pushed for systems (i.e. the people who work within them) to acknowledge and be more responsive to the cultural integrity and lived experiences of children and families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.  Moreover, they have advocated for child welfare professionals to become more aware of (and change) the ways in which a given child welfare system’s policies, practices and ways of operating actually shape the bad outcomes we see for so many African American, Native American, and increasingly Latino children and families.

A shared underlying message with each of these organizations is that the outcomes we see, and the very real lived experiences of children and families involved with these systems, is not normal, is not acceptable, and that something must be done within these systems to acknowledge and change this.  While the outcomes these three organizations have been pushing for are similar, I believe there is more sharing and learning that can happen across like-minded organizations to strengthen the case for wider-scale system transformation and accountability in this country.  At a personal level, I intend to draw upon what I have learned from each of these three organizations, among others for that matter, as I develop this space for telling more of our story.

My own experience suggests that so much of what happens in a family’s interaction with the child welfare system is fundamentally shaped by race, culture, values and judgments about “appropriate” family dynamics.  This happens at the individual level among child welfare professionals for sure; however, it’s the availability of relevant resources, organizational structures, policies and operational processes that create the environment in which individual professionals engage families.  Thus, much of the work that needs to happen to improve child welfare has to be connected to a fundamental transformation in how systems are organized to understand and support families, as well as how and how much concrete resources are made available to do so.

While my sensibilities are sharpest as it relates to the experiences of African American children and families, I am clear that the essential work of transforming these systems has to respond to the essential and shared humanity of all children and families.  This is an essential challenge for systems that have typically only valued white middle class norms and historical narratives, as every group’s humanity is expressed in different ways, behavioral patterns, languages, etc. depending on the cultural and racial experiences and patterns that have evolved among group members over time.  This is an essential part of the current and future work of improving child welfare systems in this country.

Here is some of how I feel about it…

I can’t help but feel the pain of parents and children who come to the attention of the child welfare system, and whose resulting experiences are frequently all but helpful and supportive.  Indeed in many cases the response of systems to families is far worse… characterized by blatant disrespect, dehumanization and fundamental violations of people’s legal rights.  That sickening emotional and spiritual pain I feel frequently leads to anger, frustration and a sense of urgency to make things right.

I want to see children, families and communities be and do well.  Even when families struggle, and even when some form of intervention is needed, there’s an underlying appreciation for everyone’s humanity, or “humanness” as I like to call it, that has to be reflected in our response.  My spirituality, and my genuine love for other people, demands some level of action to help make things right.

And here is my commitment…

I’ve learned so much from my experiences growing up within a culturally centered and nurturing family, from my experiences working with elders and other professionals that have been involved in this work for decades, and from children and families that have been involved with this nation’s child welfare systems. Many of these families have experiences that, if shared, could transform this nation’s false impression and understanding of how child welfare systems really function.  I’ve also gained a tremendous appreciation for the child welfare professionals that for many years have been fighting to tell the stories of our families and to make systems more responsive and accountable.  They fall within a tradition of courageous and unrelenting professional and community advocacy on behalf of our children and families.

My commitment is to create space for these and other stories, including yours, to be shared.  The primary goal is to support the continued healing and development of our children, families and communities, and simultaneously contribute to the continued transformation of those systems that are intended to provide additional support for families when needed.

Please visit us again as we continue to move things forward, and encourage others to do the same!

With much appreciation and respect…

Oronde

 

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