Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Protection Risk Assessment and African American Children: Cultural Ramifications for Families and Communities

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Protection Risk Assessment and African American Children: Cultural Ramifications for Families and Communities

Article excerpt

Child welfare practitioners are increasingly employing formal and structured risk assessment processes to predict child vulnerability or to improve case decision making. In general, research has neither proved conclusively which set of risk factors are most critical for evaluating risk within a family and community, nor has it resolved the controversy regarding the importance of professional training and experience in risk assessment procedures and processes. There is, however, a beginning recognition of the importance of collaborative strategies that bring community representatives to the assessment table along with the traditional professionals. The author argues for urgency in the pursuit of a dialogue that examines varied definitions of harm and risk for children, and the implications of those definitions for cultural conflict, screening and intake, and resource allocation.

Kenny stretched out, sprawling his long legs over the sofa in the living room of the boys' cottage in the residential facility for youths with behavioral and emotional disorders. By the age of 15, this handsome, dark-complected African American adolescent had lived in a number of settings. When Kenny was 10 years old, his parents, both struggling unsuccessfully with alcohol and drug addictions, had lived in an emergency homeless shelter for nine months with their four offspring. Shortly after, the result of a Child Protective Services report, the children were placed in several family foster homes, and separated from each other for the first time.

Kenny described one foster family that was so hostile that he had to break out of a locked room to steal food. In another foster home, Kenny became very attached to his foster parent, yet he still wondered why he was sent from that home to the group home. He acknowledged that he had threatened his teacher at school. He minimized the reality that in five family foster home placements, he was viewed as assaultive toward both peers and authority figures.

Bright, with exceptional interpersonal skills, artistic, athletic, . .. and cautious, Kenny expressed immeasurable loss and grief as he spoke, "Dr. C, what am I gonna do? Where are we gonna go? Look at the predicament my folks have put us kids in!"

This article addresses the critical need for culturally competent assessments of the risk of child maltreatment in African American families and the implications for both policy and practice. The author, an African American practitioner specializing in child welfare and juvenile justice, puts forth a conceptual framework for integrating the challenges, synthesizing various cultural lenses, and urgently reconsidering the philosophical underpinnings of the evolving professional and systemic orientations to assessment of risk and subsequent case decision making regarding the placement of children.

The largest group of children in out-of-home care are African American. Most often they are poor, from poorly educated families, and are disadvantaged in the economic mainstream of the larger society. These children are placed in out-of-home care most frequently because of substantiated reports of child maltreatment, or as they grow older, because of legal or policy offenses they have committed against society. Too many African American children and youths in out-of-home care return to the very families and communities they initially counted on, with very little changed, and too often, exhibiting symptoms of a nature akin to posttraumatic stress due to feelings of abandonment and a lack of continuity of care.

It is not reasonable to discuss the spiraling and disproportionate national problem of African American children and youths being removed from their homes, and sometimes their communities, without first confronting the complex phenomenon generally referred to as child abuse and neglect, as well as other manifestations of family difficulties. What impediments are there to the likelihood of children receiving "good-enough" nurturing and caregiving from their families of origin? …

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