Elizabeth Bartholet, Race & Child Welfare: Disproportionality, Disparity, Discrimination: Re-Assessing the Facts, Re-Thinking the Policy Options (July 19, 2011).
Abstract: This paper summarizes what the author believes can be learned from the evidence presented at a conference co-sponsored by Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago on what has generally been termed racial disproportionality in child welfare. The conference was designed to present some of the best available evidence analyzing the high representation of black children in foster care, and exploring policy implications. Some have contended that black/white maltreatment rates are similar, and accordingly that child welfare system bias is responsible for this high representation. However the evidence presented helped demonstrate that overall, higher rates of black contact with child welfare reflect differences in the underlying incidence of actual maltreatment. This paper incorporates material from a short Chapin Hall “Issue Brief”on the same topic co-authored with three others, but goes beyond that Issue Brief to provide a more complete description of the evidence, with links to the conference videos, powerpoints, and related papers. It describes in more detail the evidence both on high black maltreatment rates, and on the potential of certain targeted program to prevent maltreatment and to protect victimized children. It argues that the focus on alleged child welfare system bias with its emphasis on anti-racism training and on immediate reduction in the number of black children removed to foster care, diverts attention from the most significant problems facing black families and poses dangers to black children victimized by maltreatment. It concludes that reducing the number of children in care without reducing the prevalence of child maltreatment will endanger children, and that the work to facilitate real reform is much more challenging.