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Child welfare workers too quick to remove Latino children from their families

LatinaLista — No state child protection agency wants a label of “dereliction of duty” hanging over their heads if a child under their supervision turns up abused, or worse, can’t be found as happened in Florida with foster child Rilya Wilson.


Maybe that’s the reason why too many child protective services around the country are prone to remove the children from Latino and black households rather than work with families. “In the United States, children of color represent approximately one third of the U.S. population but 60% of children in foster care.”

In an article by the Morris News Service, it was found that in Texas, too many kids are seized from their homes if there is a suspicion of abuse or neglect.

On the surface, that would seem like a good thing since the last thing anyone wants to do is leave children in a dangerous environment. Yet, when the numbers show there is an overrepresentation of Latino children in the foster care system something is not right.

After all, when someone is in trouble in a Latino family, it’s usually the extended family members who take over the child-rearing. But in places like Lubbock County, Texas where last year, 87 of the 174 children in foster care – 50 percent – were Hispanic, and the county’s Hispanic population is only 30 percent – something is wrong.

Are all of these children really in abusive and neglectful situations or is it too difficult for agency workers to communicate with the families and so it’s easier to remove them?

As Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria, Va. said:

An African-American or a Hispanic child is more likely to be taken away from his or her parents than a white child. And when a white child is up for adoption he or she will find a home sooner than an African-American or a Hispanic child.

Fortunately, Texas’ Child Protection Services has noticed the ethnic imbalance among their charges and has created a cultural awareness program for its workers.

But that’s not the case everywhere. A GOOGLE search of the terms “child welfare and race” shows that researchers have been writing about the issue since 2000. A June 2009 report speculated on several reasons why there still existed such an ethnic disparity in child removals:

Reporter Bias. Medical providers are one of the top three sources for CPS reports (GAO, 2007), and research suggests racial bias may play a role in their reporting patterns. For example, numerous studies have shown that hospitals report families of color more for child abuse and neglect, even when they have similar presenting problems (studies cited in Hill, 2006). One study found that women of color are more likely to be reported than white women for newborns who test positive for drugs (Chasnoff, Landress, & Barrett, 1990).

Distrust and Racial Bias or Cultural Misunderstanding within Child Welfare. Many child welfare officials and researchers have suggested that families’ distrust of the child welfare system contributes to disproportionality. In particular, African Americans in some poor communities may consider child welfare agencies as more interested in separating children from parents than in helping families (GAO, 2007). As a result, families may not seek or cooperate with services, which can then increase the risk of a child’s removal.
In addition to possible bias by reporters, there may also be bias or cultural misunderstanding on the part of child welfare caseworkers and juvenile and family court judges (GAO, 2007). Those on the front lines may make unrecognized assumptions about someone from a different class, race, or ethnic group–and those assumptions can lead to more intensive and disruptive interventions in families’ lives.

While historically, African American and American Indian children have been removed from their homes in the largest numbers, Latino children are the third highest group. However, disturbing trends happening with the removal of Latino children underscore the need to create more culturally sensitive programs for social workers and programs to educate parents on parenting.

According to Casey Family programs web site:

Some studies have shown that Latino children are usually younger (between the ages of 0-5) than non-Latino children at the time of referral and substantiation, placing them at higher risk for placement. This is concerning given that infants and young children are less likely to be reunified with their families.

• Reports of abuse and neglect are relatively proportionate between Latino and White non-Latino children. Yet, substantiated (removal) cases are more likely to occur with Latino children.

• Latino children are more likely to be placed in out-of home care more quickly and for longer periods of time than their White non-Latino counterparts.

• 62% of the Latino children served by child welfare services today are placed in out-of home care, compared to 25% in 1977.

If there is a silver lining to these dismal statistics, it’s that Latino children represent the highest number of all racial/ethnic groups when it comes to being placed with relatives — but that doesn’t happen with all the children who are removed or separated from their parents.

This increasing trend of the removal of Latino children should be a wake-up call to the community to address the issue before it gets to the point where it is with African American and Native American communities, and negative assumptions of Hispanic families in trouble take deeper root in the minds of the people authorized to help.

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  • Charles McGee
    November 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Marisa: Please solicit input from some professionals who understand the journey social welfare theory has traveled. Beginning with the English Poor Laws, we have morphed into something never intended. A thorough discussion of this journey is needed. Hispanic and Africans in America are victims of being ‘agents’ trained, not educated, by the Harvard/Stanford cabal. I insist that the products we are getting are exactly as the cabal deigned. Marc Morial, President, National Urban League, makes the case that America is an AIRTIGHT CULTURAL VACUUM. That is exactly what Pope Benedict XVI inferred on April 17, 2008, in Washington, DC.
    I would offer that the primary goal of Hispanics and Africans in America who hold public office is to get re-elected just to pay the bills. They also know that if they do otherwise the White power structure will go under near bridge, find a new agent and defeat them.
    All Blessings,
    Charles McGee
    “From the Back of the Bus”
    Andalusia, Alabama

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