Pilot Child Welfare System Redesign
Strategic Action Plan
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14.3 Disproportionality of Races in Foster Care
It is critical that the Oregon foster care system provide a fair and equitable representation of all races, to avoid discriminatory treatment of some children. Oregon’s Child Welfare System was aware of this possibility of unfair treatment from the earliest Child Welfare Data Book from 2009: “Eliminating disparate treatment and overrepresentation of children of color in foster care.”
Unfortunately, it was difficult to determine what constitutes “overrepresentation” until later years when the “Disproportionality Index” was developed. From the 2019 Child Welfare Data Book, “Disproportionality Index (DI) is calculated by taking the percent by race of children served in foster care and dividing it by the percent by race in Oregon’s child population. Values less than 1 mean underrepresentation. Disproportionality statement example: if DI is 1.94: The percent of Black or African American children that were served in foster care is 1.94 times higher than the percent of Black or African American children in Oregon’s child population.”
Interpreting the Chart
As a guideline for interpreting the above chart, a “perfect” representation of every race would occur when every column is at the 1.00 line, as demonstrated by the columns for White children through the years. If the columns do not reach the 1.00 line, such as for Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic (Any Race) children, those races are underrepresented in the foster care system; this is not an issue unless children are not being helped enough to be safe at home.
Overrepresented Races in Foster Care
There are two major groups that have been, and continue to be, overrepresented in foster care: Black or African American children and American Indian or Alaska Native children. It is readily apparent that neither group is anywhere near 1.00.
Black or African American Children in Foster Care
Focusing on the block of columns at the bottom of the chart, the Black and African American children, during 2009-2012, there were more than three times (3x) as many Black or African American children in foster care than would be expected by the representation of Black or African American children in Oregon. In 2013, the reductions in foster placement resulted in two times (2x), rather than three times (3x), as many Black or African American children in foster care. There are small incremental improvements through the years up to 2019. However, there are still more improvements needed to reach the 1.00 mark.
American Indian or Alaska Native Children in Foster Care
Now, looking at the group of columns at the top of the chart, there were four (4x) to five times (5x) the number of American Indian or Alaska Native children in foster care in 2009-2011 than represented by their population in Oregon. From 2012-2019, the number of American Indian or Alaska Native children in foster care hovered around 2x the expected number. This is despite the following, from the 2019 Child Welfare Data Book and repeated in some form in every Data Book from 2009:
“In 1978, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in response to a national crisis in which an alarmingly high percentage of Native American children were being removed from their families and tribal communities. ICWA requires that states make Active Efforts to prevent removal of tribal children from their families. Oregon works closely with the federally recognized tribes to ensure ICWA compliance and tribes are actively involved in the decision-making process for their children. A total of 571 children served in foster care were ICWA eligible in FFY 2019.”
From the data, it appears that the Oregon Child Welfare System is making “Active Efforts” to reduce the number of Black or African American children removed from their families, but has not made much, if any, “Active Efforts” for the American Indian or Alaska Native children. This brings up another interesting table: a comparison of American Indian or Alaska Native children who were in foster care during the year vs. the number of children identified as “ICWA Eligible” in that same year.
In the above chart, two metrics found in the annual Child Welfare Data Books from 2009 through 2019 were compared. The yellow columns represent the number of American Indian or Alaska Native children in foster care that year. The blue columns represent the number of American Indian or Alaska Native children identified as “ICWA Eligible” that year. Expectation would be that the numbers would be very close, like the pairs of columns from 2015 through 2019. However, the 2009 data indicates that twice (2x) as many American Indian or Alaska Native children were in foster care as were counted as “ICWA Eligible.”
Action Step 14.3.1: There needs to be a concerted effort to reduce and eliminate the overrepresentation of American Indian or Alaska Native children in foster care. The approaches taken thus far are not making much difference.
To submit questions or comments, please email Jo@Jo-Calk.com. I welcome all input, ideas, and suggestions. Thank you for caring for children.