Race and Child Welfare
Chapin Hall and Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program co-sponsored an invitational conference in January 2011 addressing what has been generally characterized as racial disproportionality in child welfare. A central debate in the field regarding high black representation in the child welfare system has revolved around whether there is a black/white maltreatment gap and the implications the answer to this question has for why contact with the child welfare system, including placement in foster care, is so much higher among black children. Some early evidence suggested that black/white rates of actual maltreatment were similar, a finding that led many child welfare leaders to conclude that current child welfare system bias explains why child welfare system involvement is so much higher among blacks. To address this fundamental issue, scholars presented some of the best and most recent social science designed to assess whether there are differences in the underlying rates of maltreatment.
Empirical work showed that actual black maltreatment rates are significantly higher than white rates. Evidence was also presented indicating that black children suffer worse outcomes from maltreatment, including higher rates of death following child abuse, higher rates of death following traumatic brain injury, and higher rates of mortality among those referred to child welfare.
Given the considerable evidence of a black/white maltreatment gap, the field needs to focus more attention on the problems facing black families and their children, and the related risks to black children victimized by maltreatment and in need of protection and services. It needs to pay more attention to the high rates of maltreatment among children of all races and ethnicities growing up in poverty, to the harmful developmental impact of maltreatment, and the importance of developing more and better programs designed to prevent maltreatment and provide protective services.