Birth Parent National Network Member Corey Best Spotlights the Problem with America’s Child Welfare System
By Corey Best
This year has been a reactivation of racial trauma and enhanced exposure to the system of inequalities for many reasons, that includes, but not limited to: a global pandemic, a volatile election, and bubbling polarization regarding tense race relations that have completely uprooted Americans’ way of life. In the midst of this structural unrest, the institution known as, the “child welfare system” continues to uphold antiquated, discriminatory policies, practices and tolerable behaviors that have destructive and harmful impacts on our Nation’s most disenfranchised families — BIPOC.
The current child welfare system continues to mishandle and abandon Black, Native and Latino youth and families at an alarmingly disproportionate rate, compared to white families. BIPOC children and youth have a higher likelihood of being neglected by caseworkers, the judicial system, and foster families, than white children, families and youth. This is a direct contradiction to the American foster system’s mission and a travesty for those who are not old enough to make decisions and advocate for themselves. As a member of the Birth Parent National Network, I have witnessed the injustice done to Black and Brown children for far too long.
To get to the root of the problems that afflict the American foster care system miseducation regarding race, we must examine this country’s history. Race is a defining factor of American society and from this country’s inception, race has been intertwined in the legislation that governs society. In truth, most, if not all, laws written are to the benefit of white people and this creates disadvantages for BIPOC. In the American foster care system, a lot of the language that forms policies are veiled in the need for “child safety”. However, as we begin to examine the role of whiteness, racist, discriminatory practices against children and youth who are Black, Native and Latino families, we are in a position to overlay the reality that these policies reinforce stereotypes and caricatures that society has placed on these groups since America’s origin. The child welfare system is essentially a microcosm of society because people operate within the same problematic mindset and racialized worldview that automatically generates mental models and associations linked to race, culture and heritage. . In both ecosystems, the groups that suffer the most are children and their parents. It is imperative that people within the child welfare system remove any blinders and discontinue upholding our child and family “imprisonment” system.
So how does a person combat this thinking? People who are actively making decisions that can heavily impact children and youth must first understand that prejudice and bias reduction is absolutely necessary. However, it will not push us far enough. Our positional leaders must begin to examine empirical data that tells a true and complete story of racism as a set of systems. These systems stem from a violent history that shapes our identity and culture. As we open our hearts and minds and make our systems visible, we then find entry points to disrupt racist policies. As we continue to learn how to live with racism, we will begin to heal and eventually eliminate systemic barriers; focus on the distribution of resources that support families and create new systems and policies and practices that hold our workforce accountable to fair, equitable and just treatment. We are at a crucial point in our collective history, to ensure we build on collectivism and question power and privilege dynamics within our child welfare system. Ask people who usually are intentionally, subjugated, ignored and forgotten their point of view to educate yourself. We can measure behavior change if we laser focus on shifting the mindset and prioritize relationships and supports over services and rescuing children from loving families. I would personally challenge the workforce, leaders to ask themselves a few questions: 1) Who are you and what is the nature of your relationship with children, youth and parents you “serve?” 2) What are the power dynamics in this relationship? 3) How proximate are you to the issues that impact BIPOC? And 4) How do you center the experiences of those most harmed and traumatized by your practices? Not only will it raise awareness of problems within the child welfare system, but it will also increase trust and empathy between youth, families and those that consider themselves professional leaders in this oppressive system. Empathy, courage, shared accountability are essential elements to share power with our families and youth. After all, healers are driven by one fundamental goal — to leave the world better than we found it!
Corey Best is a Birth Parent National Network Member from the District of Columbia.
Listen as Corey Best, Sarah Smalls, and Aliyah Zein share their lived experiences with racism and discrimination in the child welfare system. In this most recent podcast from Family Voices United, they also articulate their vision of an equitable, anti-racist system that supports and strengthens all children and families.
Family Voices United is a joint undertaking by Casey Family Programs, FosterClub, Generations United, and The Children’s Trust Fund Alliance to elevate the voices and experiences of parents, relative caregivers and young people, transforming systems to support children and families to thrive. Learn more at https://familyvoicesunited.org/