Commentary: End Systemic Racism in Child Welfare

As we celebrate Black History Month, we must also reflect on the unique challenges facing Black Americans at this moment. There is no more important place to start than with the systemic biases our kids and families face in the child welfare system.

The work of child welfare is critical to the safety and well-being of Texas’ most vulnerable children and families. Every day, mission-driven organizations across the state must be ready and available to support those who have experienced the trauma of abuse, neglect, homelessness, abandonment, domestic violence, substance use and more. And while these interventions are vital and often life-changing, we must also recognize that when we don’t get them right, negative outcomes can follow.

In Texas, Black children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, which is the collection of public and private services aimed at ensuring the safety of children and promoting stable families. Specifically, 33 percent of the children in the foster care system are Black, compared to only 15 percent of the general child population. Data show Black children and families are more likely to experience reports, investigations and confirmations of allegations of abuse and neglect than the population at large.

The trauma that may be experienced from removal, coupled with race-based trauma, is compounded as research shows Black children often remain in foster care longer than other children, are less likely to be reunited with families and more likely to have poor social, educational and behavioral outcomes.

We owe it to our kids across Texas to better understand and respond with urgency to the multitude of factors that cause them to land in the system so often. Our organizations — the Texas Black Caucus Foundation and the Texas Alliance of Child and Family Services — are supporting the reinstatement of the Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparity.

The center, originally established by the Legislature in 2011, was leading work with public and private partners to identify core issues of systemic bias and worked to eliminate disparities to access to care. Although agencies still work on these issues, we can begin to do better by providing a clear voice and undivided focus to guide our system.

We can also do better to support kids and families at home. Historically, families of color have lower incomes and inadequate access to quality education and health care, and work remains to provide equitable resources. The pandemic has highlighted the digital divide, which for many has been the determining factor in their ability to work, learn and receive care.

Digital inclusion means empowering communities and providing improved access to education and health care. We also must invest in accessible mental health resources for every Texan, which can help create more of the healthy home environments children need.

Finally, we must stay vigilant. We do these children no favors by ignoring or minimizing the obstacles that so many of them must overcome. What seems like rather simple statistics on a page result from a complex combination of history, racial bias, systemic injustice and inequity.

It is our responsibility to untangle and shape a more equitable system that serves to support and strengthen all families. And as we use this month to celebrate Black history, we are also called to look to the future, together, and recognize ways we can provide more Black children in Texas with the opportunities they need.

Read and share our commentary on the San Antonio Express News.