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News and Information from the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association

Top Tips for Volunteers

6 Tips for Reducing Disparity
in Child Welfare

Honorable Louis A. Trosch Jr.
District Court Judge
26th Judicial District of North Carolina
Charlotte, NC

As a juvenile court judge, each day I see a disproportionate number of children of color in my courtroom. As a volunteer advocate, you are likely to have a similar experience. Disproportionality in the child welfare system refers to the over- or underrepresentation of children relative to their proportions in the general population. Across the country, children of color are overrepresented in all aspects of the child welfare system. Investigations are substantiated at higher rates for minority children, more children of color enter custody, and they tend to remain in custody longer than white children (Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System: The Disproportionate Representation of Children of Color in Foster Care, Casey Family Programs, 2007). Furthermore, these children face larger obstacles to attaining safe and permanent homes. For example, children of color face longer adoption wait times and are less likely to return home (for more details, go to bit.ly/AFCARS16).

This difference in outcomes for children of different races and ethnicities is known as disparity. Disproportionality and disparity are most often thought of in terms of race and ethnicity. However, children with disabilities and who identify as LGBTQ also face prejudices and barriers that prevent them from having successful outcomes in the child welfare system. CASA/GAL volunteers can play a vital role in helping to eliminate these disproportionalities and disparities by using the following six tips in their work.

1. Know Yourself.

Bias is everywhere. You and I are biased when we arrive in the courtroom each morning. Indeed, everyone involved in the child welfare system brings some type of bias to their work. All of us are aware of the history of purposeful discrimination in this country. Hopefully, few people continue to act upon such explicit prejudices. On the other hand, we are often not aware of the implicit biases that affect all of our perceptions of and interactions with others. This very real psychological phenomenon significantly impacts children of color, children with disabilities and LGBTQ children. Implicit bias is caused by
processing shortcuts taken by all human brains, which then result in subconscious stereotypes. These biases color your perception of the children with whom you work, as well as of their families and cultural heritage. To better understand the pervasiveness of these implicit biases, I recommend taking one or more of the Implicit Association Tests (IAT) posted at implicit.harvard.edu. These tests can tell you a lot about your implicit bias that you may not even realize you possess. Recognizing our own biases is a critical first step to understanding the barriers faced by many children and then overcoming them.

2. Participate in Cultural Competency/Inclusion Training.

As a CASA volunteer, it is important to understand and respect diversity in all forms, whether it be race, ethnicity, gender issues, disabilities or sexual orientation. In order to assist children and families in overcoming these biases against them, volunteers should participate in equity training. When implemented through best practices, training will help you recognize the impact that biases have. More importantly, you can learn strategies for dealing with unconscious biases. Several trainings are available, such as Casey Family Programs’ Knowing Who You Are curriculum, which is specifically designed for workers in the child welfare field and has been used extensively by CASA programs across the country. In Charlotte we have a special initiative, Race Matters for Juvenile Justice, which we designed to meet local needs utilizing the nationally recognized Race Matters series. Through this initiative, we seek to educate our community and then work together to eliminate disparities and disproportionalities seen in our jurisdiction. Check out CASAforChildren.org/EquityTraining and casey.org for more information on these and other programs.

3. Know the Data.

In 2008, 53% of the children living in foster care were children of color, although children of color make up only 41% of the child population in the United States (the AFCARS Report and the Annie E. Casey Foundation 2008 Kids Count Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org). As we’ve seen, children of color are overrepresented in all aspects of the child welfare system nationwide. But it is also vital to know your local statistics because local disproportionality levels can vary widely from state to state, even from county to county. For instance in Santa Clara County, CA, 52% of child welfare cases were Hispanic/Latino children, but they made up only 30% of the population. Meanwhile, in other locales, Hispanic/Latino children were significantly underrepresented (Congressional Research Service, August 2005, Race/Ethnicity and Child Welfare). Accurate statistics are critical to understanding the specific issues of your jurisdiction.

4. Know the Specific Issues Related to the Child You Serve.

As you are aware, each child with whom you work is an individual with unique challenges. Just as you learn about these individual challenges, you should also be aware of each child’s culture and its impact upon her life. It is important to advocate for children to become and remain culturally competent. The following article has more tips related to cultural competence: CASA volunteer Nirja Kapoor, “4 Steps to Maintaining Cultural Connection,” The Connection, Summer 2007, p. 13. It is also important to realize cultural competence extends beyond race and ethnicity. LGBTQ youth, for instance, often face special challenges and benefit from advocacy strategies tailored to them. See LaRae Oberloh, “12 Tips for Advocating for LGBTQ Youth,”
The Connection, Fall 2009, p. 14. Finally, Krisan Walker provides the eye-opening article “7 Tips for Advocating for Children with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses” in the Spring 2009 issue of The Connection, p. 15.

5. Know the Resources Available in Your Community.

Good advocates always stay up to date on the latest and best resources in their communities. As a judge, I make sure to know of the new programs that show high success rates so that I can refer children to services that will improve their lives. A national collaboration that focuses on eliminating disproportionality is Courts Catalyzing Change (CCC), a joint initiative between NCJFCJ and Casey Family Programs. Most recently, CCC has created a racial equity benchcard, described in the cover story. It is also helpful to know the resources in your own community serving children of color, those with disabilities and youth who identify as LGBTQ. For example, in Charlotte there is a program, the Community Building Initiative, focused on building bridges among people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Check with your local CASA/GAL office to stay up to date on the resources that work in your community and then recommend them to help the children you represent.

6. Be the Voice that Gets the Conversation Started.

All too often we ignore race, bias and prejudice because it is an uncomfortable topic. Once you’ve followed these tips, you will be able to recognize disparity and disproportionality and their devastating impact upon children. It is up to you to openly discuss cultural context, discrimination and bias—
intentional or otherwise—with the judge and other members of your child and family team. You can be a powerful voice for bringing attention to the disparity of outcomes for children of color, children with disabilities and LGBTQ children in the child welfare system.


Judge Trosch and daughter Pressley
Judge Trosch and daughter Pressley, 13

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Anonymous @ 10/28/2010 7:58:56 AM 
After the training on Knowing Who You Are, I have a better understanding of racial and ethnic identity. While you see your grandchildren as just that, it is okay to reconize their ethnic and racial background. Prejudice is on both sides of races, which needs to end. White people do not have to defend their race, as well as black have to defend theirs. Maybe your grandchildren would like to know both sides of their ethnic backgrounds, as they have the right to.
Dominick Fanelli
CASA in Georgia
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