True Equality in Child Welfare

Here is a video of Chris Rock discussing racial equality in America. He says:

“Just because you let Jackie Robinson in baseball doesn’t mean it’s equal. Baseball, statistically, almost isn’t equal until the seventies. And why do I say the seventies? Because that’s when you started to see bad black baseball players. The true, true equality is to suck like the white man.”

In other words, the appearance of equality is not necessarily true equality. True equality is truly equal.

When I was young, the hot topic was affirmative action. The problem with affirmative action was that wherever it was applied, black people were accused of not deserving their degrees or jobs. Along with negative court rulings and laws, the costs were perceived to offset the gains and the use of affirmative action declined.

I don’t claim to understand all the nuances of affirmative action, although I was always inclined to favor it. But whatever may be said of it, it was never a holistic solution because it didn’t try to remedy inequality until adulthood. And that’s too late. Providing a kid with college opportunity is of limited value without the opportunity to adequately prepare for college. But it helped our society appear equal.

Now the hot topic is police brutality.

Here is what is good about the current discussion: the diverse outcry. People across the political, racial and socio-economic spectrums have joined together to insist on reform.

Here is what is bad about the current discussion: It is too narrow. So much focus is on body cameras for police, which may be a good idea, but it is such a small solution for a small piece of the problem. Some are struggling to broaden the discussion to advocate for comprehensive, empowering grassroots change, and some are pushing against well-meaning paternalism, but it is difficult to be heard over the simplistic narrative that the media wants to maintain.

And I worry that if we put body cams on police, all this discussion will go away. Policy makers will turn away and pat themselves on the back, satisfied with creating the appearance of change.

Here is what an equality Band-Aid looks like in child welfare reform: the “racial disproportionality” movement, which is an effort to match the number of black children in foster care to the percentage of black children in the general population.

In my county, 60 percent of the children in foster care are black, even though less than 30 percent of my county’s population is black. The number of black children in foster care around the country is also disproportionate.

Social science studies show that the reason for this disproportionality is that maltreatment of children is in fact higher in black families. Maltreatment is higher in the black community because of all the risk factors: poverty, depression, substance abuse, violence, and lack of support.

Policy makers think these problems are too difficult to solve. Despite the body of social science to the contrary, they slap the label of “institutional racism” on the problem and encourage social workers simply to remove less black children from abusive homes.

This is dangerous for black children. But it is easier for policy makers than working on comprehensive social change.

Equality in child welfare may appear to be matching demographics to the foster child population, but true equality is making sure that every black child in our country is just as safe as every white child. And that will take comprehensive reform, not Band-Aid solutions.

Katie Jay is an attorney and blogger who advocates for child-centered welfare policies. Her blog, Children Deserve Families, covers both domestic and international child welfare policy.

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