By KATHLEEN M. LAVALLE
Racial disproportionality in the child welfare system deserves our full attention. The disturbing reality is that Black children make up 22% of the Dallas County child population, yet represent 43% of children removed from home due to abuse or neglect. Because the consequences of entering the child welfare system are real, and the further consequences of growing up in foster care can be dire, we as a community need to examine why a Black child in Dallas County is 2.7 times more likely to be removed from home than a White child.
As frequently holds true, the path to disproportionality begins at the front door of a system. The first stage of gatekeeping in the child welfare system is the child abuse hotline intake process. Black children are the subject of 36% of reports of child maltreatment in Dallas County, while again making up only 22% of the total child population. A decision to investigate also is more likely, with 68% of reports of suspected abuse of a Black child resulting in the opening of an investigation, compared to only 59% of reports involving a White child. The likelihood an alleged child victim of either race will be confirmed as a victim is virtually the same and the probability a Black child confirmed as a victim will be removed from home is only slightly higher. But the disproportionate number of reports involving Black children, combined with the greater likelihood an investigation will follow, means a significantly greater number of Black children in our community end up living in foster care or some other out-of-home placement.
The fact is that lives are saved by the intervention of the child welfare system and we’re confident Child Protective Services does not want to remove children when other safe options exist. But interventions also can result in trauma, immediate and long-term. The outcomes for youth who grow up in and age out of foster care include homelessness, early parenthood, substance abuse, imprisonment, and sexual exploitation. Exposing Black children to a higher degree of these destabilizing risks perpetuates a pattern of racial inequity in education, employment and income. It might be tempting to attribute disparities in child removal rates entirely to poverty, yet Latino children in Dallas County who also experience high levels of poverty are actually underrepresented in the system, accounting for 50% of the child population and only 33% of child removals. Single parent and single wage earning households also are more common among Blacks, and those are the same households impacted by systemic racism contributing to over incarceration. Last year, 40% of child abuse reports from law enforcement involved Black families, compared to 30% of the reports from educators and medical personnel.
Nearly half of the more than 3,600 children Dallas CASA was court-appointed to serve last year were Black. Only 15% of volunteers who have completed training and been sworn-in as volunteer advocates so far this year are Black. We fully recognize that a CASA volunteer does not need to share the same ethnicity as the child being served. But many children and their families do benefit when that one constant adult advocating for the children’s well-being is someone they readily identify with from the very start. The need to increase the diversity of our volunteer base remains a top priority for Dallas CASA. Find out how you can make a difference by registering for one of our weekly virtual information sessions on our website at dallascasa.org.
While Black children now represent 43% of Dallas children removed from home, that is an improvement over the 48% figure reported last year, giving us reason to hope for positive change. In today’s conversations about racial justice, we hope the focus will include ways to support children and families in order to reduce the need for child removals. Dallas CASA appreciates the opportunity to continue to contribute to broader conversations about racial equity in our community and to sharing our perspective on the impact of racial disproportionality in the child welfare system.
Kathleen M. LaValle is the CEO of Dallas CASA – also known as Court Appointed Special Advocates.