Since the inception of US child protective agencies, numerous reforms and legislative changes have been implemented to ensure effective protection of America's children. However, these systems have yet to evolve to embrace the diversity of our country's families. Instead of prioritizing family preservation, the removal of children from their homes is often presented as the only viable solution. This practice is sometimes triggered by poverty being mistaken for neglect, while neglect stemming from social inequities is overlooked. This shift in focus is compounded by caregiver assessments that tend to apportion blame solely on CPS involvement.
It's critical to acknowledge the systemic disparity that exists as a result of these practices. Families of color, particularly Black families, are significantly overrepresented in most societal facets, including CPS involvement. This racial imbalance is substantiated by a wealth of data and research.
We at Our Sister Our Brother believe wholeheartedly that system change is possible, and we will continue to persevere in the fight for racial justice, and pathway to progressive solutions that keep children safe and families together.
Lifetime risks in Maricopa county, by race
Black children, specifically, had experienced consistently higher rates of risk in all four levels of CPS contact. Despite Black children and AI/AN children representing only 5% and <2% of the population in Maricopa County, respectively, they experienced the highest levels of risk in all four levels of CPS contact.
Professors at Rutgers and Duke University did a study on four levels of CPS contact using 2014-2018 data from the 20 most populous counties in the US. These four levels included the cumulative risk of experiencing: (1) Investigation, (2) Substantiation, or confirmed maltreatment, (3) Foster Care, and (4) Termination of Parental Rights.
The likelihood of being investigated by CPS was omnipresent amongst all children, but risks of later-stage CPS contact were common for children from marginalized populations.
Despite the increased risk (over 40%) of CPS Investigation for children in Maricopa County shown in the previous slide, the cumulative risk of Substantiation for these children falls just under the 10% median. This shows us a clear disparity between the rate of investigation and the rate of substantiation.
Relative to the 19 other counties included in the study, Maricopa County had the highest cumulative rates in foster care (<10%). In other words, Maricopa County removes children from their homes more than other populous counties.
Relative to the 19 other counties included in the study, Maricopa County had the highest cumulative rates in the termination of parental rights (<3%). To put things into perspective, Maricopa County terminated parental rights at over 15 times the rate of counties that did so the least.
Why is contact so common and unequal?
Bias in surveillance and decision-making.
Differential risk of family crisis
Structural racism leads to unequal life chances.
Policy failure to address poverty and inequality
Historically anemic, racist, misogynist, and residual US welfare state (much worse post-welfare reform)
Deeply tied to regulation and restriction of Black, Indigenous, and immigrant women's reproductive rights.
*Frank Edwards, Sara Wakefield, Kieran Healy, and Christopher Wildeman: Contact with Child Protective Services is pervasive but unequally distributed by race and ethnicity in large US counties, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2106272118