Statement: Foster care order misses the markChild Abuse & Neglect Child Rights Racial Equity
The Administration’s recent Executive Order regarding the child welfare system acknowledges several important shortfalls, but sadly misses the opportunity to make real progress toward society’s fundamental goal: protecting children from harm and keeping them with their families when possible.
The advocacy community has promoted the calls of foster youth to maintain sibling connections, and the order requires data collection and analysis to support these relationships. The order also prioritizes resources for caregivers, including kin. More than 2.5 million children live with relatives other than their parents. Only about 5% of those relatives are eligible to receive support from child welfare agencies.
But the order misses the mark on the long game. It professes the goal of promoting “a child welfare system that reduces the need to place children into foster care,” but fails to address the best way of doing this: by providing tangible supports to the families of origin.
“The primary job of child welfare is to protect our most vulnerable children,” said Bruce Lesley, president of First Focus on Children. “The system must be constructed in a way that offers them safety while also supporting families of origin and battling inherent racial inequities.”
Implicit racial biases consistently undercut the child welfare system’s professed goal of stabilizing families and result in a disproportionate number of Black and brown children trapped in the system. These biases hinder effective implementation of prevention services, promote inaccurate reporting and costly, unfounded investigations of abuse and neglect, and underutilize reunification services for communities of color. The Administration also ignores issues of equity by giving its tacit approval of discrimination against LGBTQ adults under the guise of ‘religious freedom’, thereby condoning the further reduction in the number of caring adults who could serve as foster parents during the current national foster parent shortage. The Administration’s order ignores these equity issues when eliminating these inequities would help decrease the number of children coming into foster care and would increase the speed with which they exit the system.
The order does require a study of the implementation of the Multiethnic Placement Act, which could inform the ways in which racial bias hinders the recruitment of foster parents, which contributes to the slow exit of many children from the system. But the Administration could achieve greater impact by researching front-end inequities — such as reporting and investigations — which could shrink the universe of youth considered for care. Now would also be a good time to study the impact of tangible supports such as housing, food, and child care to families of origins as a way to prevent children from coming into foster care.