Racial Bias in American Foster Care: The National Debate

64 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2014  

Tanya Cooper

Pepperdine University - School of Law

Date Written: Winter 2013

Abstract

In disproportionately high numbers, Native American and African American children find themselves in the American foster care system. Empirical data establish that these children are removed from their families at greater rates than other races and stay in foster care longer, where they are often abused, neglected, and then severed from their families forever. For the past few decades, a vigorous debate has raged regarding whether these children are actually at greater risk for maltreatment if left at home or are just targets of discrimination in a hegemonic institution. Although the research previously showed no racial differences in child maltreatment rates, the latest Congressional study has found that African American and Native American children are at greater risk for child maltreatment than children of other races. Despite the caution with which researchers have interpreted the data and implicated future policies, scholars are asking whether, as a society, we are protecting or destroying children from these historically disempowered races. Foster care laws offer little practical guidance because the overarching legal standards are too vague or not consistently applied. Systems thinking, however, provides one useful framework for uncovering points in the foster care system where unintended bias manifests and potential leverage points to exert pressure and effect change. A systems thinking approach also reveals that the foster care system’s primary motivation is simply perpetuating itself; accordingly, to achieve meaningful reform, public policy makers in the U.S. must closely examine this billion-dollar, publicly-funded bureaucracy and the racial disparities it routinely fosters.

Keywords: foster care, racial bias, child welfare, family, adoption, racial disparities, systems change, systems thinking, civil rights

Suggested Citation

Cooper, Tanya, Racial Bias in American Foster Care: The National Debate (Winter 2013). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 97, 2013; U of Alabama Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2426210. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2426210

Tanya Cooper (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - School of Law

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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