Racial Equity in Pennsylvania’s Child Welfare Systems

Black History Month is a significant month for our nation. It is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate, honor, and recognize the contributions and impact that Black Americans have made to our nation, and it should be a time to celebrate the diversity that strengthens our nation. This should also be a time to reflect on issues that impact Black communities.

One issue that Black communities in our nation face is racial inequities within the welfare and public assistance programs, including but not limited to the child welfare system, judicial system, and job placement programs. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) published a report in 2021 which revealed that many Pennsylvania residents face marginalization due to a combination of 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.

Nationally, the overrepresentation of Black children in the child welfare system has been well documented across numerous studies. In Pennsylvania, Black children make up 35 percent of the 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. The 2020 Kids Count Data Book notes that racial inequities remain deep in the child welfare system. As a nation, the report notes, we have failed to provide African American children and families with the support necessary to thrive, and states have not gotten rid of barriers facing all children of color. Even when risk factors are the same, white families are more likely to receive family and home support, whereas Black families are more likely to have their children removed. The 2020 State of Child Welfare report by Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PCC) identifies a cause for this disparity as personal and implicit bias. In its report, PCC says these biases directly impact decision-making, which correlates to these outcomes for children and families.

To address this disparity, individuals who work with children must understand the relationship between unconscious biases and systemic racism. Real change begins with each of us examining ourselves and addressing our own personal biases. A great place to start is by understanding your own implicit biases by taking the Implicit Association Tests available through Project Implicit.

Every child-caring agency should resolve to take a deeper dive into this issue through:

  • Cultural competency and racial equity training and education for your staff, which help to affirm and value all children and families.
  • Identifying and addressing the systemic issues strategically as an organization through your own areas of influence.

PFSA has committed to acknowledging and growing in our understanding of the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). A workgroup on DEI was recently formed with PFSA staff, board members, and key partners to learn, identify, and create a plan for how PFSA can impact change. More information on this work will be provided in 2022.

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