The African American Child Welfare Act And Why We Need It Now!!!
You know, I have been wanting to write this piece for a very long time now, so here goes. But first, let me explain why this unrealized Act is important to me personally. As an African American woman, from a low-income family, I have seen and endured many injustices, but none more devastating than that of our current child welfare system. I have been victimized and terrorized by this “system,” both as an adult and as a child leaving me with PTSD (which is extremely common in those who have been unfortunate enough to have had contact with cps). Obviously, neither of these experiences were positive in any way, shape or form, far from it, in fact, and that is why I’m passionate about this issue. Having said that, there is but one other “system” in our country that is equally devastating to black people. Criminal justice (along with the mass incarceration that is attributed to it) is the system for which I’m refering. However, there is a huge difference in that this “system” has received much media coverage, debate, and national attention , in recent years, as it should. So, how and why is it that the child welfare system, and its hugely detrimental effects on the black family, and the black community in general, is left completely out of the debate? To mention criminal justice reform, and not child welfare reform, is to ignore two sides of the very same coin!!! Together, these systems, or institutions as some people like to call them, wreak unimaginable long lasting havoc in the lives of black people and have created what amounts to cultural genocide. But, as to not make this post too long, I am going to get straight to the point.
“If ever a State agency destroyed a family, it destroyed ours.”
-Minister Malcom X
When the Native Americans lobbied in the late seventies and got their very own Act (The Indian Child Welfare Act or ICWA of 1978) to address the systemically racist child welfare system, they quickly got it and no one batted an eye. Why? Because EVERYONE knew — including Congress — that Native Americans had been victimized for generations by the State, and no one could deny it, or that they needed specific protections. Yet black people, who have been victimized for the past five decades — at least — by the very same racist and discriminatory system, have NOTHING in place to protect our interests. Why? Because no one cares, because we don’t complain loud enough, hell we don’t complain at all most of the time, and because we lack the leadership to lobby our government for the protections that we so desperately need. It sickens me that in this day and age, a time when anyone can have a voice, people aren’t talking about this issue on a national and visible level.
“Spend a day in the agencies that handle child maltreatment cases in these cities and you will probably see only black or Latino parents and children. If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system, you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor families of color.”
-Professor Dorothy Roberts
There are, in fact, a select few scholars and advocates out there who have been sounding the alarm for many years, although mostly ignored, and trying to bring attention to this MAJOR issue. The most prominent being Dorothy Roberts, a Harvard educated, Law professor, public intellectual and social justice advocate. She wrote a book, most people have probably never heard of, called Shattered Bonds. For those of you who are not familiar with this book, I would certainly recommend that you read it, because in it, Professor Roberts lays out the whole bloody mess. And than there’s Jessica Dixon-Weaver, another Law professor, who coined the term the African American Child Welfare Act all the way back in 2008. You would think that people would have heard about it. I am always astonished when I bring this Act up to social workers and social work students alike and they have NO IDEA what I am talking about. That said, Professor Dixson-Weaver — very matter of factly — laid out the issues, legally and morally, as to WHY black people need, and are entitled to such an Act. Believe me when I tell you that these institutions have effectively and systematically reduced black people back to slavery status. Wherein, you — as a black person — have no control over your destiny or that of your own children. The sheer amount of social control heaped upon us through both of these systems cannot be understated, nor excused, although there will always be those that will try. But let me break out the facts and numbers for you.
Black people only make up 13 percent of the US population.
Yet back children make up over 30 percent of the children in foster care. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), African Americans make up 34 percent of the foster-care population, but only 15 percent of the general child population in 2004 — AND — that African American children were twice as likely to be taken away. Another national study of child protective services by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that, “minority children, and in particular African American children, are more likely to be in foster care placement than receive in-home services, even when they have the same problems and characteristics as white children.” Moreover, the vast majority of white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children (Dorothy Roberts, Race and Class within the Child Welfare System). I also want to point out that there is absolutely NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE that suggests and/or proves that black people abuse and/or neglect their children at higher rates than that of whites or any other race.
I think that it is painfully obvious that racial disparities are evident at every critical decision point within the child welfare system. And while race plays an undeniable role in the disparities that exist within the system, so does socioeconomic status. According to Professor Roberts, poverty is also a leading cause of children landing in foster care. In fact, one study concluded that poor families are up to 22 times more likely to be involved in the child-welfare system than wealthier families. But what a minute, aren’t black people much more likely to be poor than whites? Didn’t 400 years of slavery and oppression see to that? Aren’t black people twice as likely to be unemployed or underemployed than whites even with a college degree and no criminal record? Isn’t the net worth of a black household just a tiny faction of that of whites ($113,149, compared with $5,677 for Blacks).
Yepper, Ladies and Gentlemen
So, even the perpetual poverty and lack of both social and monetary capital has its roots and racism and oppression. Therefore, I believe that the best way to address these disparities is through both, federal legislation and policy changes; and that is where the African American Child welfare Act comes in. This Act would systemically address the gross overrepresentation of African Americans — from the inside out — within the child welfare system. Moreover, it would improve outcomes and support for black families at every critical decision point just as ICWA does for Native Americans. It’s time to break the silence and to speak up, I do every chance I get. It’s time to get the word out and it’s time for change.
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