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Equity and Social Justice in Child Welfare

To achieve equity and social justice in child welfare, the unrecognized legacies of historical trauma must be addressed.
pregnant woman hugs son and husband

A relationship-based and strengths-based approach best address the intense emotions associated with this unrecognized trauma. Historical trauma of racial and ethnic groups differs from traumatic events that may be collectively experienced by an individual or group such as sexual abuse or a natural disaster like a hurricane. Historical trauma is a worldwide phenomenon of the intentional targeting of a specific group over generations for domination through violence and oppression. Examples of historical trauma are centuries of chattel slavery of African Americans; the genocide, on-going oppression that includes the forced boarding school experience of Native American children; and the chronic shock and trauma of desperate immigration experiences and discrimination of Latina populations. These historical events can be directly linked to modern day issues of disproportionality and disparities in the child welfare system. To achieve equity and social justice, there is a growing body of resources available to infant-toddler court teams to compliment the ongoing support from QIC-CT. Three dominant relationship-based modern legacies of historical trauma must inform local court team strategies to achieve equity and social justice for young children in the child welfare system. These psychological residuals that contribute to disproportionality include stereotypes, stereotype threat, and implicit bias; unrecognized White Privilege; and internalized oppression. The transmission of traumatic disconnection leading to invisibility, rage, guilt and shame, and separation and loss with unresolved grief may occur over generations of families.

The public health model of Historical Trauma developed by Sotero (2006) provides an excellent conceptual beginning point to understand the impact of mass historical trauma for all members of a society. Additional resources are provided that describe the application of this model in clinical practice. The implications for child welfare policy and the courtroom are described in the resources provided below. Finally, the guiding principle of the restoration of dignity must be part of all strategies to heal and achieve equity and social justice for all children and families who have experienced historical trauma.


Advancing Equitable Outcomes for Infants and Toddlers Involved in Child Welfare 

The goal of focusing on equity in child welfare is to help infant–toddler court teams ensure all eligible families are being given the opportunity and access to services that will help their children thrive. This brief suggests a process, tool, and various strategies to help teams focus on advancing equity, building on the work documented in the Safe Babies Court Team™ approach to provide context and direction for ongoing action. In addition, an accompanying fact sheet provides information on implicit bias and historical, structural, and institutional racism—all of which have a direct impact on children of color who are involved with child welfare and other public systems. Click here to access a copy of the slides used during the September 25, 2018 presentation of Advancing Equitable Outcomes for Infants and Toddlers Involved in Child Welfare, which includes the Race Equity Assessment Tool and other information and resources to assist you in this work. Additionally, a recording of the webinar can be viewed by clicking on this link.

Achieving Racial Equity: Child Welfare Policy Strategies to Improve Outcomes for Children of Color

This report highlights policy strategies that have shown promise in improving outcomes for children and families of color in child welfare systems. American Indian/Alaska Native, African American and Latino children and youth are often over-represented in child welfare systems. They also tend to experience worse outcomes including longer stays in care, more placements in non-family settings and fewer supports and services as they transition to adulthood. Authored by CSSP, the paper includes examples of how states are acting on strategies to better understand the experience of people of color and serve them more appropriately, as well as how they are strategically directing funding to make these changes.

Strategies to Reduce Racially Disparate Outcomes in Child Welfare

The Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare surveyed the field in 2014 for an updated understanding of the strategies underway across the country to promote racial equity among children and families involved with the child welfare system. This report describes what improvement strategies look like when systems aim to achieve racial equity among families involved with the child welfare system. Furthermore, the report depicts the range of child welfare system partners driving these efforts.

Being Black Is Not a Risk Factor: A Strengths-Based Look at the State of the Black Child

This resource from the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) is designed to challenge the prevailing discourse about Black children–one which overemphasizes limitations and deficits and does not draw upon the considerable strengths, assets and resilience demonstrated by our children, families and communities.

Diversity-Informed Infant Mental Health Tenets

The Tenets, a product of the Irving Harris Foundation Professional Development Network, are guiding principles created to encourage the infant mental health field to intentionally and mindfully engage in standards of practice that promote and strive for a just and equitable society. They are meant to empower individual practitioners, agencies, and systems of care to identify and address the social justice issues intricately intertwined with all work involving infant mental health and incorporate the Tenets into daily practice. Rooted in belief that self-awareness and intentional action, The Tenets are the cornerstones of principles of equity and inclusion.

Colorism, A Legacy of Historical Trauma in Parent-Child Relationships: Clinical, Research, and Personal Perspectives

The articles in this issue of the Zero to Three Journal, titled Responding to Violence, Disaster, and Trauma, address a wide range of potentially traumatic experiences, from widespread events to interpersonal experiences. This specific article explores the compounding impact of colorism with present-day traumatic stressors in the parent-child relationship. The authors present research, personal, and professional experiences of colorism within families and systems of care and discuss recommendations for therapists.

A Conceptual Model of Historical Trauma: Implications for Public Health Practice and Research

This article offers an analysis of the theoretical framework of historical trauma theory and provides a general review of the literature. A conceptual model is introduced illustrating how historical trauma might play a role in disease prevalence and health disparities. Finally, implications for public health practice and research are discussed.

The Equity Project at Indiana University

The Equity Project is a consortium of projects dedicated to providing high-quality data to educational decision-makers in order to better understand and address issues regarding educational equity. It aims to bridge the gap between research and practice. Resources from The Equity Project, including policy briefs, reports, presentations and journal articles, can be accessed through this website.

Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare

Published by the Child Welfare Information Gateway, this issue brief explores efforts to address racial disproportionality in child welfare. By focusing on changes in policy and practice at specific decision points in the child welfare process—prevention, reporting, investigation, service provision, out-of-home care, and permanency— this brief examines policies and practices that can be implemented across several or all of these decision points. The issue brief is designed to help administrators, program managers, and policymakers explore solutions to racial disproportionality in their own child welfare systems.

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