At first the commentary in The Imprint by Bryan Samuels, executive director of Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago since 2013, might seem like just another in a long line of “well, what do you know? There is racism in child welfare!” commentaries from organizations that understand it’s the right p.r. move at the moment.
Inequities have shaped our country since its founding. Centuries of discrimination have inflicted deep wounds, with disparate rates of COVID-19 infection and brutal policing being current symptoms of that troubled history. Outrage over these symptoms has sparked an examination of bias in our criminal justice, health care, education and financial systems. To that list I would add one other: the child welfare system.
But Chapin Hall has probably been at its worst concerning the whole issue of race. They worked hand-in-glove with Elizabeth Bartholet, one of America’s most extreme advocates of a take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare, to discredit the whole idea that there is racial bias in the child welfare system. Two years before Samuels arrived there, Chapin Hall co-sponsored the stacked-deck conference discussed here. Then one of their “scholars” co-authored an Issue Brief, issued in the name of Chapin Hall, whose thrust is 180 degrees from Samuels’ recent column.
[J]ust as we are overdue in revamping our criminal justice system, we are delinquent in addressing the institutionalized racism and bias that pervades our family and child well-being systems.
The systematic separation of children of color from their parents – without regard for the lasting trauma it entails –is a thread that runs through our nation’s history from slavery to Native American boarding schools to present day child welfare practice.
This has been perpetuated by the misconception that we are nobly “rescuing” children from dangerous situations. On the contrary, research suggests that many children who spend time in foster care are more likely to experience negative outcomes than their counterparts who were not removed from their families.
One speaker summarized: “African American children are at least as likely to be underserved as overserved” by current removal rates.
Bold policy and legislation are needed to create and sustain a vastly different system that coordinates among multiple agencies to prevent trauma rather than create it, and to strengthen family and community capacity to ensure children are safe and thriving. This will require that we de-scale existing infrastructure and dismantle racist practices in favor of a new way to work.