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The Safe Babies Court Team™ Approach: Creating the Context for Addressing Racial Inequities in Child Welfare

Sep 14, 2021

Joy D. Osofsky, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, Louisiana; Jenifer Goldman Fraser and Amy Huffer, ZERO TO THREE, Washington, DC; with Janie Huddleston and Darneshia Allen, ZERO TO THREE, Washington, DC; Alexandra Citrin and Juanita Gallion, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Washington, DC; and Sufna G. John, University of Arkansas Medical Center, Little Rock


Structural racism in the United States through federal and state legislation and public policies has systematically disadvantaged families of color leading to societal inequities and generations of families living in poverty. Further, racist ideas have led to the exclusion of families of color from systems of support that could prevent involvement with child welfare. The Safe Babies Court TeamTM (SBCTTM) approach is an innovative program for child welfare-involved children and families supporting cross-systems integration and collaboration. Through this program, many inequities within the child welfare system can be recognized and addressed. The methods embedded in the core components of the SBCT approach set the stage for advancing racial equity. The article also includes reflections, through the lens of cultural humility, about what is needed to strengthen the capacity of SBCTs in addressing systemic racism and discriminatory practices in the child welfare system through equitable supports, services, procedures, and policies.

Policies and systems that are grounded in racist ideas have led, and continue to lead, to the exclusion of families of color from systems of support that could prevent involvement with child welfare. (Citrin et al., 2021, p. 4)

Structural racism in the United States, manifested in the long history of federal and state legislation and public policies that have systematically disadvantaged families of color, has led to deeply rooted societal inequities and injustice resulting in generations of families living in poverty (Aspen Institute, 2005; Hayes-Greene & Love, 2018). This institutionalized racism has shaped and perpetuates social and environmental conditions that undermine access to safe and stable housing, good-paying and stable jobs, healthy food, health care, and other services and supports that promote well-being—conditions that are disproportionately experienced by children and families of color as starkly illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic (Children’s Defense Fund, 2021; Cunningham et al., 2019; Evans, 2020).

A brief from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2021), based on a publication in the Annual Review of Public Health (Shonkoff et al., 2021), emphasized the clear and growing scientific evidence that both structural racism and interpersonal bias and discrimination impose substantial stressors on the daily lives of families of color with young children. Approximately 3 in 4 children living in poverty (71%) are children of color (Children’s Defense Fund, 2021). Among families with very young children who are low income or living in poverty, the highest percentage are American Indian/ Alaska Native (63%), African American (61%), and Latino (54%) compared with White (29%) families (Keating et al., 2021). For both American Indian/Alaska Native and African American families living in poverty, these percentages are at or nearly double the national average of 18.6% (Keating et al., 2021). During the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty among all age children increased by nearly 2 percentage points, but the increase was particularly acute for Latino and African American children in female-headed households (Chen & Thomson, 2021), demonstrating how current policies and systems create additional barriers for these families in accessing supports in times of need.

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