How Are the Children? Foster Care and African-American Boys
Bell, William C., National Urban League. The State of Black America
"The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A new report from the United Nations and UNICEF recently ranked the United States and Great Britain as number 20 and 21 respectively out of 21 countries in the industrialized world with regards to the quality of life and well-being of its children and youth. UNICEF examined 40 factors, such as poverty, deprivation, education, health, relationships and risky behavior and placed the U.S. and Great Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 developed nations. In almost all categories, poorer nations such as Poland and the Czech Republic fared better than the United States.1
"I think we know from history in the U.S.," says David Parker, of UNICEF, "that it's not necessarily how the welfare is provided but the nature of the support. One of the key things is that the role of government is important, but the entire society must have at its heart the idea of improving child well-being." 2
We know that in almost all categories of well-being, poor children and children of color tend to do worse than their counterparts in the general population. Therefore, one question that we must consider in America is, how are children of color faring, specifically young black males?
In a 2006 article in the Journal of Adolescence, authors Scott & Davis summarized what it means to be young, black and male in American society today:
"It means to be a member of a group who is the disproportionate victim of homicide. It means to be a member of a group whose rate of suicide is increasing astronomically in comparison to other populations. It means to be a member of a group whose labor force status is declining enormously as evidenced by high rates of joblessness. And for those in foster care, it means being a member of a group with poorer life outcomes (e.g. incarceration, education, employment)." 3
Clearly, being a young, black male in America today means facing significant challenges as well as daunting odds. As we explore these issues as a society and try to identify solutions, one of the critical questions to ask ourselves is: "How are we preparing our nation's children, especially those in most need, to be productive participants in the process of helping America regain its place of prominence in the world?"
The Most Vulnerable
One of the most vulnerable child populations in this country is children who are in foster care. Each year approximately 300,000 children are removed from their birth parents and placed in the child welfare system due to harmful conditions (i.e. neglect, abuse, or parental substance abuse, incarceration and/or death). Every year in America, over 500,000 children live in foster care in the United States. Of those, 57% are children of color.4 What is especially concerning is that: (1) there is an increasingly disproportionate number of children, youth and families of color in the child welfare system; and (2) there is substantial evidence that minority children who enter the child welfare system are at greater risk for poorer outcomes than thek white counterparts. In nearly every state, African-American children are represented in foster care in higher percentages than in the state's general population. A review of all the studies conducted over the last fifteen years found that "children of color and their families experience poorer outcomes and receive fewer services than their Caucasian counterparts". 5
Disproportionate representation among children of color continues to be a chronic problem despite studies that report no significant differences in maltreatment rates between different racial and ethnic groups.6 Nationally and in 46 states, the percentage of the foster care population that is comprised by children of African heritage is between 1 ½ times to 3 ½ times more than the percentage of African-American children in the overall population.7
"Being African American presents a threefold set of challenges for children in foster care. …