Racial Inequities that Exist within Pennsylvania’s Institutions

On January 21, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) published a report on racial inequities that in Pennsylvania’s welfare and public assistance programs, including but not limited to, the child welfare system, judicial system, and job placement programs following a three-year study.

The report notes that the Department serves more than 3 million Pennsylvanians and many of these residents face marginalization due to a combination of the following factors: race, gender, poverty, disabilities, and sexual orientation. The study also revealed the disproportionate impact of systemic racism and marginalization on Black children in Pennsylvania’s child welfare system.

According to the report, Black children make up 35 percent of Pennsylvania’s foster care population and represent 21 percent of potential child abuse victims in child protective service reports. These numbers are striking, considering Black children account for only 13 percent of the total child population of Pennsylvania. This outline of Pennsylvania’s racial disparities within the foster care system and abuse reports received by county children and youth agencies and ChildLine, reminds us as advocates, that we must work together to identify examples of racial disparities and biases—both institutional and personal.

The following efforts by the Department of Health’s Office of Children, Youth, and Families (OCYF) work to identify recommendations and examples of where we must do better in order to implement positive changes. Here are a few highlights from the report:  

  • Mandated reporter curriculum includes content on racial bias and disproportionality to equip individuals that work within child welfare with the tools, resources, knowledge of the issues facing children and families of color.
  • We are the leader in Pennsylvania for mandated reporter training and offer virtual training sessions on recognizing and reporting child abuse in both English and Spanish. If your organization would like to register for a virtual mandated reporter training, please click here.
  • The child welfare and judicial systems each play a small part in a much larger, complex system. Judges, lawyers, police officers, and community members all need to become aware of racial disparities and inequities in Pennsylvania and work to eradicate them.
  • We support policies and laws that prevent child abuse and neglect and advocate for increased funding to support prevention programs and education. Advocating for legislation that protects all children equally is one of our ongoing initiatives.
  • Addressing systemic racism and disparities in the child welfare system requires making training and education available to those who serve youth and families. Ensuring that individuals who work in the child welfare system complete cultural awareness and responsiveness trainings helps to affirm and value all children and families.
  • Training statewide staff and child advocates to recognize all cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and races will build empathy and understanding.

We know that individuals who work with children in any industry must understand the relationship between unconscious biases and systemic racism. But it is especially important for individuals who work within the child welfare system to be aware of these things.  Each one of us has a responsibility to recognize and help eliminate the disparities that exist.

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