Academic journal article Child Welfare

Point of Engagement: Reducing Disproportionality and Improving Child and Family Outcomes

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Point of Engagement: Reducing Disproportionality and Improving Child and Family Outcomes

Article excerpt

This paper describes an innovative service delivery model to reduce the number of children entering the child welfare system. Point of Engagement (POE) is a collaborative family- and community-centered approach initiated in Compton, a regional office in Los Angeles County that serves south Los Angeles, a predominantly African American and Hispanic / Latino area. Over the past two years, the POE has been implemented in the Compton area by providing more thorough investigations, engaging families, and delivering needed services to children and families within their homes and communities. POE has demonstrated a reduction in the number of children removed from their families, an increase in the number of children returned to their families within one year, and an increase in the number of children finding legal permanency.

Although a pressing issue for many years, there is currently a growing national attention to the disproportionate number of children of color in the nation's child welfare system. While there is no difference between races in the likelihood that a parent will abuse or neglect a child, recent empirical findings demonstrate that children of color enter the system at disproportionately high rates, compared to Caucasian children (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2003; Hill, 2006; U.S. Government Accountability Office [USGAO], 2007). Disproportionality refers to a situation in which a particular racial /ethnic group of children is represented in foster care at a higher percentage than other racial /ethnic groups are. In 2005 African American children composed only 15% of the U.S. child population, yet 32% of the 513,000 children in the child welfare population were African American (Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).

In addition to disproportionate representation in the foster care system, African American children and families often receive disparate or unequal treatment (have less access to services) when compared to other racial groups (McRoy, 2004; USGAO, 2007). Furthermore, African American children experience differences in the quality of services, fewer contacts by caseworkers, and less access to drug treatment services, mental health services, and family preservation services (Courtney, Barth, Berrick, Brooks, Needell, & Park, 1996; Denby Curtis, & Alford, 1998; Garland, Hough, Landsverk, McCabe, Yeh, Ganger, & Reynolds, 2000). For those who are not adopted or reunified, many remain in the system while experiencing multiple moves and often emotional, mental, educational, and behavioral problems (Hill, 2006; USGAO, 2007). Once youths "age out" of the system by becoming legal adults, many have difficult transitions and are more vulnerable to homelessness, substance abuse, and involvement in the criminal justice system. This paper describes an innovative service delivery model that is reducing the number of children entering the child welfare system as an effort to address this disproportionality.

Racial Disproportionality Within the Child Welfare System in Southern California

Although only 7.3% of the California child population is African American, 13.9% of the 491,202 referrals and 31.1% of the 81,603 children in care are African American (Needell, 2006). African American children are referred for maltreatment more than any other group. Despite the disparate referral rate, there are no racial differences in substantiation rates. Even after controlling for reasons for maltreatment, neighborhood poverty, and age of child, Needell, Brookhart, and Lee (2003) found that African American children in California were more likely than white children were to be placed in foster care. Also African American families and children are least likely to receive family maintenance services, are least likely to be reunified with their families, and stay in care longer compared to children in other groups (USGAO, 2007). In this state, the greatest disproportionality occurs among African American children in care between the ages of 11 and 15 as they have entered at young ages and have remained in care for extended periods (USGAO, 2007). …

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