Racial disproportionality and disparities have been documented in the child welfare system in the United States since at least the 1960s, yet they persist as a national problem. This article provides an overview of the history of racial disproportionality and disparities in child welfare systems, the continuing presence of racial disproportionality and disparities, and the factors that contribute to racial disproportionality and disparities. The article concludes with strategies that have been developed over the years to address racial disproportionality and disparities, including calls for abolition of the child welfare system as a means of addressing these persistent problems.
Alan J. Dettlaff
Rowena Fong, Ruth G. McRoy, and Alan Dettlaff
Racial disproportionality and disparities are problems affecting children and families of color in the child welfare, juvenile justice, education, mental-health, and health-care systems. The term “disproportionality” refers to the ratio between the percentage of persons in a particular racial or ethnic group at a particular decision point or experiencing an event (maltreatment, incarceration, school dropouts) compared to the percentage of the same racial or ethnic group in the overall population. This ratio could suggest underrepresentation, proportional representation, or overrepresentation of a population experiencing a particular phenomenon. The term “disparity” refers to “unequal treatment or outcomes for different groups in the same circumstance or at the same decision point.” A close examination of disproportionality and disparities brings attention to differences in outcomes, often by racial group, and by social service systems. It is necessary to examine the reasons for these differences in outcomes and to be sure that culturally competent practices are upheld.
This article summarizes the incidence of women in the United States who have been sentenced to prison as a consequence of a felony conviction for violation of state or federal laws. It also describes their characteristics and co-occurring health conditions; issues that contribute to women’s experiences after release from prison, including those that lead to success and failure during re-entry; and gendered practices and policies that provide alternatives to incarceration.
Wendy Haight and Priscilla Gibson
Racial disproportionality in out-of-school suspensions (suspensions) is a persistent, multi-level social justice and child well-being issue affecting not only youth, families, and schools but society as a whole. It is a complex, multiple-level social problem that will require an equally complex response. The design of effective remedies will require adequate understanding of the problem as well as the historical and sociocultural contexts in which it emerged and is perpetuated. Progressive educators have offered a number of alternatives to harsh and exclusionary discipline, but research is needed to examine their effectiveness, especially in reducing racial disproportionalities.
John Paul Horn, Emily Bruce, and Toni Naccarato
In the United States, the child welfare system is composed of multiple services to keep children safe, either by strengthening family units, preventing maltreatment, or providing alternative care arrangements for children who are unable to safely remain at home. These services include child protection, family support and maintenance programs, reunification, and out-of-home care. Some children return safely to their families, but other children might never return home. Services for these youth might include adoption, guardianship, and/or transitional planning for youth exiting foster care to adulthood. Case-carrying social workers hold responsibility for assessing the case, making recommendations to the court, and preparing reports for parents, court officers, and sometimes for dependent children (based on their age). These individuals are professional social workers with graduate degrees in social work. Case aids or case assistants often provide support services for the case-carrying social worker.