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Black Administrators in Child Welfare Make a National Call to Action

On Thursday, July 30, the Black Administrators in Child Welfare (BACW) held a virtual call-to-action summit in which prominent African-American thought leaders – representing the fields of education, criminal justice, behavioral health, faith and community, and income and housing – discussed strategic ways to dismantle the racism that plagues these systems and in turn, prove to have detrimental outcomes for black children and families in child welfare. The thought-provoking summit themed, “Deconstructing Child Welfare Oppression: Renewing Hope through a Racialized Child Well-Being Lens,” and facilitated by Dr. Cheryl Hall-Russell, President and Chief Cultural Consultant of Black Women Wise Women, LLC, allowed for an open, honest and “straight talk” conversation about the historical oppression that black families continue to face as a result of the continual reframing of slavery in policy that works to structurally keep them oppressed.

Further, the diverse panel shared a mutual sentiment that as child welfare oppression is being deconstructed, there is a great need to change the name of child welfare to embody the source of support and hope it should be in caring for the well-being of children, families, and their communities. Dr. Sharon McDaniel, President of the BACW explained, “In child welfare, there have been continuous conversations about ‘making a difference,’ ‘having an impact’ and ‘doing what is right.’ Do we mean what we say or say what we mean? What actually is the difference? How do we know it makes an impact? Who did we ask to see if it was ‘right’?” She continued,  “You have come today to make a difference, have an impact and do what we know is morally right. To do this means leaning in, not just to the overt racism that makes for breaking news, but also the insidious racism that continues to break away our children from their families and communities.” Each leader discussed critical points and provided the strategic action steps and priorities to be highlighted in the discussion and included in a summary report for further discussion and practice.

Discussion Highlights

Brace Lowe, 2nd Vice President – BACW; Chief Operating Officer – A Second Chance, Inc.

“What are we prepared to do? We don’t want to just be prisoners of the moment based upon all of the racial and social injustices, but we want to continue to leverage this platform, in this high-leverage moment, to effectuate change.”

Kimm Campbell, LCSW, Director of Human Services – Broward County Human Services

“The way to get at deep and lasting community change—beyond one or two families, a couple hundred families, or even a couple thousand families getting a hand up or a lift out of poverty—is to dismantle the racist structures in education, juvenile justice, criminal justice, healthcare across the gambit. I don’t want to talk about implicit bias. Don’t talk to me about cultural competence. I’m talking about antiracism work. Intentional anti-racism work.”

Keith D. Bostick, MSW, 1st Vice President, BACW; Deputy Director – Broward County Human Services

“If you solve the issues of African American families, you solve the issues of all families.”

“I don’t think we can have a conversation about moving forward until we address the issues of history… The child welfare system and systems across the country are racist and oppressive toward African American children, families and communities, and could be described as a form of modern-day slavery.”

Cheryl Blanchette, JD Senior Director, Systems Improvement – Casey Family Programs

“Community context and what the community knows about their own community is critical to integrate into disaggregated data. The absence of context doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Matthew L. Brown, ThD, Pastor – National Church of God in Christ

“The priority of our children is not a delegation.”

James Freeman, MSW, LCSW, MBAe, PhD Associate, Professor – Johnson C. Smith University

“Once we begin to ensure and educate, then we can empower system change at every level, by shifting values and beliefs at the core of the system to value all lives as equal humans—neither more in need of service than the other. We can’t keep thinking that this is a color issue. This is a human issue. And we have to elevate it to a crisis in our public health systems and as a human rights issue for all humans.”

Christine White-Taylor, MA, EdD, Education Liaison – A Second Chance, Inc.

“We must become resources of intervention [for students]. Those responsibilities come strictly through those who are a part of students’ support teams. The more interventions, the more choices…the more good choices.”

Peggy Harris, MPA, President and CEO – Three Rivers Youth

“I would change the name of child welfare to what I call “family build.” At the end of the day, we are not about tearing down families as we go about the business of protecting children. And children are not entities unto themselves, they are a part of family systems. And so, when something is wrong with the child, something is wrong with the family. The child is not going to thrive in a system where the family is absent and does not have a major role.”

Isabel Blanco, Senior Director, Strategic Consulting – Casey Family Programs

“The history and many other journeys and conditions that the white society have imposed and taken with communities of color have perpetuated the very behavior and risk issues that they are now blaming and dismembering our families for.”

Oronde Miller, Program Officer – W.K. Kellogg Foundation

“Systems are designed to preserve themselves…we have to shift this so that our victories are the ones that last the longest and the systems are continuing to have to respond to our interests.”

Jacki Hoover, LSW, Deputy Director – Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families

“We’ve used that word ‘overrepresentation’ for at least the past two decades, but we haven’t had the proper theme to challenge decision-makers. We’ve never addressed the unstructured oppressions of colonialism or racism in that effect. How can we not only do some public service announcements and education for mandated reporters, but also seek to change that legislation?”

Rebecca Palatino, Director of Operations – Allegheny County Office of Children, Youth and Families 

“As we work with our providers, we focus on stability and preservation. How do we support kinship navigation, culturally competent telehelp, community centers, and co-parenting or peer supports at this level?”

Los Angeles County Department of Children & Family Services

Angela Parks-Pyles, Deputy Director

Mario Johnson, MSW, Division Chief – Office of Equity

Working to develop and implement a “gold standard” of practice for African American children, similar to ICWA.

Event Closing and Next Steps

BACW board member and Senior Fellow for the Center for the Study of Social Policy, Leonard D. Burton, ended the conversation by challenging leaders to stand firm in challenging racist systems. He explained, “There are times when you really can’t breathe, and you just have to push back… Healed people heal people. We have to be healed in ourselves and focus on our healing so that we can help heal the kids that are being oppressed by these systems that we are a part of. We can’t be afraid to speak what we have to speak.” Burton proposed the following points for reflection and action:

  • Today’s racist policies and practices stem from Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1960 report which aided in the historical over-surveillance of Black and Brown people in child welfare describing, Black people and families as pathological and pathogenic.
  • We need to engage in anti-racist practice and policies beyond implicit bias and cultural competence trainings to keep the discussion about dismantling white supremacy.
  • We have to upend the child welfare system as it currently stands.
  • We have to be careful about the language we use and leading with data. We have to turn it on the system as opposed to leading with the data.

Each action step and point of discussion will be used to produce a written report that will redefine child welfare and provide a logistical roadmap for jurisdictions and private sectors to follow to work towards embracing real systemic change. This report will be sent to jurisdictions across the United States in order to catalyze action within these systems.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of A Second Chance, Inc.

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