Disproportionate Representation of Children and Youth of Color

For information on issues affecting children and youth of color in the child welfare system, please visit our Hot Topics page at http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/info_services/children-of-color.html

For information on Indian child welfare issues, please visit our Hot Topics page at http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/info_services/indian-child-welfare.html

For information on Latino child welfare issues, please visit our Hot Topics page at http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/info_services/latino-child-welfare.html

Resources that Explore the Issue

  • Disproportionality Rates for Children of Color in Foster Care 2013
    This technical assistance bulletin from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) calculates current disproportionality indexes for every state and select Model Courts across the country.  These indexes were calculated utilizing the most current 2011 Adoption and Foster Care Reporting System (AFCARS) data and 2011 census data estimates. The bulletin features a comparison of disproportionality rates between the years 2000 and 2011. (May 2013)
  • African American Children in Foster Care
    This report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, subtitled “Additional HHS Assistance Needed to Help States Reduce the Proportion in Care,” analyzes (1) the major factors that have been identified as influencing the proportion of African American children entering and remaining in foster care compared to children of other races and ethnicities; (2) the extent that states and localities have implemented strategies that appear promising in addressing African American representation in foster care; and (3) the ways in which key federal child welfare policies may have influenced African American representation in foster care.

  • An Analysis of Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality and Disparity at the National, State, and County Levels
    This report from the Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare makes several important contributions to the study of disproportionality and disparity in the child welfare system by incorporating a variety of communities, namely American Indians, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics. Furthermore, while most studies examine disproportionality at only one geographic level, this analysis describes racial/ethnic disproportionality and disparity at three levels-national, state, and county.

  • Racial Disparity in Foster Care Admissions
    In the first study to examine how racial disparity in foster care placement differs locally, this Chapin Hall report looks at placement rates in a cross section of urban and rural counties. Researchers found that disparity is lower in counties with high poverty rates and a less educated adult population. The study also finds that African-American infants are nearly three times more likely than white infants to be placed in foster care. This finding begins to explain the overrepresentation of African-American children in the nation's foster care systems.(September 2007)

  • Assessing Parenting Behaviors Across Racial Groups: Implications for the Child Welfare System
    Little is known about how race influences judgments about parenting. This article relies on data from a population-based survey to examine whether the race of interviewers, relative to the race of families they interview, influences parenting assessments. It reports evidence of racial bias in some measures of interviewer-assessed parenting behaviors. Racial bias is more pronounced for measures that require subjective assessments on the part of interviewers.

  • Color of Child Welfare Policy:
    Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services
    Power Point: [download]
    Transcript:   [download]
    In April, 2002, the National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning (NRCFCPP), the Child Welfare Fund, and the Hite Foundation sponsored a reception and lecture entitled, "Color of Child Welfare Policy: Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services", featuring Ruth McRoy. Dr. McRoy is an Associate Dean for Research, the Director of the Center for Social Work Research, and the Ruby Lee Piester Centennial Professor in Services to Children & Families at the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Children of Color in the Child Welfare System: Perspectives from the Child Welfare Community
    This report from the Children's Bureau suggests that children of color, especially African American children, are overrepresented in the child welfare system for a variety of reasons, including poverty and racial bias. It is one of the first studies to explore the attitudes and perceptions of the child welfare community regarding racial disproportionality. It emphasizes the need for stronger administrative support, increased staff training in both general child welfare issues and cultural competency, and more internal and external resources to better serve families.

  • Minorities as Majority: Disproportionality in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice
    Statistics have confirmed what child welfare professionals have suspected all along: Far too many children of color pass from protection to punishment.

  • Racial Disproportionality, Race Disparity, and Other Race-Related Findings in Published Works Derived from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being
    This paper from the Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare draws on peer-reviewed papers and chapters from data gathered during the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being to examine correlates and contributors to racial disproportionality.(2007)

  • Synthesis of Research on Disproportionality in Child Welfare: An Update
    The study from the Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity is the first comprehensive summary of past and recent data examining racial disproportionality and disparities in treatment and services within the child welfare system.

  • Calculating Racial Disproportionality of Children in Out-of-Home Care
    One method for determining racial disproportionality, as used by the National Resource Center for Child Welfare Data and Technology, and the Child Welfare League of America's National Data Analysis System.

  • A Model for Examining Disproportionality
    The Race Matters Consortium developed a model (adapted from Barth, Green, & Miller, 2001) to provide a context for closer examination of the related factors impacting children as they enter and travel through the child welfare system. This model hypothesizes two pathways into the child welfare system. (2007)

Resources that Address Improvement

  • Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare
    This Child Welfare Information Gateway 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—as  well as 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. Specific examples of State and local projects that address disproportionality are highlighted throughout. A brief introductory section on prevalence is also included, to provide some background statistics. (2011)
  • Racial and Ethnic Disparity and Disproportionality in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice: A Compendium
    A Chapin Hall paper, "Understanding Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice," first presented at a symposium cosponsored by Chapin Hall and Georgetown University's Center for Juvenile Justice Reform last spring, is now available in a compendium of the symposium proceedings. The paper offers five intervention strategies, applicable to both child welfare and juvenile justice: (1) increasing transparency, (2) reengineering structure and procedures, (3) changing organizational culture, (4) mobilizing political leadership, and (5) partnering in developing community and family resources.

  • Seven Steps to Develop and Evaluate Strategies to Reduce Disproportionate Minority Contact
    This guidebook from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Juvenile Justice Evaluation Center discusses disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the context of a seven-step evaluation approach, focusing especially on the first two steps: identifying the problem and implementing an evidence-based intervention. The approach has applicability to child welfare, as well.

  • Understanding and Addressing Racial/Ethnic Disproportionality in the Front End of the Child Welfare System
    The existence of disproportionality throughout the child welfare system is well known. There are four major "front-end" decision-making points: referral of a case to the system, investigation of a referral, substantiation of the referral, and removal of a child from the home. This structured review of the literature, commissioned by the Bay Area Social Services Consortium, examines the nature of disproportionality in the front-end of the child welfare system. The first section outlines the problem, and describes several theories about its cause. The second section describes interventions that have been developed based upon those theories, and assesses the effectiveness of the interventions. The report concludes with a section on the implications of the study's findings for research and practice.

  • Reducing Disproportionality and Disparate Outcomes for Children and Families of Color in the Child Welfare System: Framework for Change
    This document, developed for use in the Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Disproportionality sponsored by Casey Family Programs, offers a framework that describes the key components that child welfare systems must address to reduce and ultimately eliminate racial disparities in the child welfare system. This framework is not prescriptive but instead identifies eight principles to guide action and seven key component areas that if addressed in policy, programming, practice and training are likely to lead to positive outcomes.

  • Disproportionate Representation in the Child Welfare System: Emerging Promising Practices Survey
    Disproportionate representation is evident in child welfare agencies across the nation. Minority children and families are overrepresented, relative to White children and families, at key decision points in child welfare agencies. Many child welfare agencies are addressing the issue head on, while others are in the early stages of tackling the issues in their own jurisdiction. The National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (NAPCWA) requested information about a state's use of over 40 practices that have been deemed "promising practices" by various groups and researchers. The survey responses were used to produce a general picture of efforts to mitigate disproportionality.

  • Places to Watch: Promising Practices to Address Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare Services
    This paper from the Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity documents the efforts of ten jurisdictions as they attempt to address and change the contributing factors that have led to racial disproportionality in their child welfare systems

  • Public Policies and Practices in Child Welfare Systems that Affect Life Options for Children of Color
    This report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies examines the impact of the child welfare system on the ability of minority children to pursue positive life options and presents promising practices to bring about improvements.

  • Racial Equity and Subsidized Guardianship: Critical Issues in Child Welfare Policy and Practice
    This issue brief is designed to provide a general overview of the issues that were raised by national experts at a 2005 conference and to lay out questions to help guide the next phase of the discussion: developing consensus around a specific set of strategies to maximize permanence and address racial/ethnic disproportionality and disparities.

  • Disproportionality Diagnostic Tool
    The Disproportionality Diagnostic Tool, developed by the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators, helps users examine societal, system, and individual factors that may be contributing to disparate treatment of certain groups of children (e.g. African American or Native American Indian children). It provides a preliminary broad assessment from which a user can consider a more robust analysis of the root causes of disparate treatment that children of color tend to face. The tool will be followed by written guidance to help users understand what their assessment results mean and will include reflective questions that child welfare agency personnel can consider as they develop a plan of change and move to take corrective action within their agencies. The tool is meant to contribute to the understanding of baseline data about the existence of disproportionality in a particular jurisdiction and related directly to disproportionate representation—it is not a general agency diagnostic. (2008)

  • Outcomes and Lessons Learned: Casey’s Breakthrough Series Collaborative on Reducing Disproportionality and Disparities for Children and Families of Color in the Child Welfare System
    This study, authored by Kristin J. Ward, examines the processes and influences of Casey Family Programs' Breakthrough Series Collaborative (BSC) on Disproportionality. Thirteen public child welfare agencies participated in the Disproportionality BSC with the aim of sharing ideas, raising awareness and developing solutions to the problem of disproportionality and disparities for children and families of color in the child welfare system. Outcomes and Lessons Learned examines the need for and the meaning of the Disproportionality BSC from the perspective of the participants involved. The study found that the Disproportionality BSC effectively mobilized child welfare agencies in improvement efforts to reduce the number of children of color in the foster care system. In addition, the BSC helped agencies test and implement strategies to equalize how the system treats these children and their families. Key outcomes are reported. (December 2008)

  • Breakthrough Series Collaborative: Reducing Racial Disproportionality And Disparate Outcomes For Children And Families Of Color In The Child Welfare System
    This report from Casey Family Programs has been developed to describe the Breakthrough Series Collaborative methodology and the experience of those jurisdictions that participated in the Disproportionality BSC. Included in this report is a detailed description of those strategies that participants developed during this process. While many ideas were tested by participants during this process, the strategies described in this report are those that were reported by the jurisdictions as having the greatest potential to show progress over time. (2009)

State Efforts to Address Disproportionality

  • California

  • Illinois
    Disproportionality in Illinois Child Welfare
    This report, authored by Nancy Rolock and available from the Children and Family Research Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, looks at disproportionate representation in the child welfare system in Illinois for children of different races/ethnicities. Since geography (where a child lives) is a significant factor in child welfare outcomes and since there is wide variation in the racial composition of the state, the issue is explored by region. In Illinois, the point of entry into foster care is the point at which the greatest disparity exists. Once in care, groups of children from different races/ethnicities have different likelihoods of continuity, stability, and permanence. This report examines disproportionality at different stages and decision points to assess over and under representation in child welfare in Illinois. (Updated October 2008)

  • Iowa
    • DMC Resource Center
      The DMC Resource Center at the University of Iowa serves statewide and community efforts to reduce over-representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The DMC Resource Center is a coordinated effort between the Department of Human Services and the Iowa Department of Human Rights, Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning.

  • Michigan

  • Minnesota
    • The Role of the Caseworker in Identifying, Developing and Supporting Strengths in African American Families Involved in Child Protective Services: A Practice Guide
      This practice guide from the Minnesota Department of Human Services was developed as a tool for social workers to help them address the systemic issue of the overrepresentation and racial disparity of African American children and their families involved in child protective services. This guide is meant to serve as a resource and reference manual for caseworkers (the person working in the practice of social work) as they engage African American families in effective service delivery. This guide focuses on practice and systemic change, at the caseworker level. (February 2008)

    • Study of Outcomes for African American Children in Minnesota's Child Protection System
      This 2002 report to the Minnesota Legislature contains a description of a study conducted to identify the nature and extent of disproportionate outcomes for African American children in Minnestota, as well as recommendations for change.

    • African American Comparative Case Review Study Report
      This case review study in four Minnesota counties was conducted to take a close look at case practice and service delivery for African American families in comparison to Caucasian American families by examining the level, type and delivery of services. The review found that, in most cases, there were no statistically significant differences between African American and Caucasian children for case services and case outcomes at assessment, case management in the home and reunification services. However, it found differences in case and family characteristics during the assessment process. Furthermore, it found that race interacts with other case characteristics in a way that is predictive of some case dispositions. The report included recommendations for practice beginning with prevention and continuing through permanency.

  • Ohio
    • Minority Disproportionality
      The Public Children Services Association of Ohio has put together a group of resources on disproportionate representation of children and youth of color in the child welfare system, including three articles from their newsletter Heartbeat:
      • The Color of Child Welfare
      • How Other States are Addressing Minority Disproportionality in Child Welfare in their newsletter, Heartbeat.
      • A Closer Look: The Overrepresentation of Minorities in Ohio's Child Welfare System.

  • Tennessee
    • Entry and Exit Disparities in the Tennessee Foster Care System
      The study from Chapin Hall is based on Tennessee children first placed in foster care between 2000 and 2005, inclusive. The first part of the analysis focuses on entry rates and differences in the likelihood that children will enter foster care. The report also examines how entry rate disparities at the county level vary in relation to characteristics of the local population. The second part of the report examines exit patterns in order to assess how length of stay and exit type influence disproportionality. After adjusting for other attributes, among children who are either reunified or adopted, white children exit more quickly. Among children discharged to a relative's care, African American children move more quickly even though children placed with relatives stay longer than children in other placement settings, regardless of race. (December 2006)

  • Texas
    • Disproportionality in Child Protective Services: Statewide Reform Effort Begins with Examination of the Problem
      Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) and the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) were directed by the state legislature to determine whether Child Protective Services (CPS) enforcement actions are disproportionately initiated against any racial or ethnic group after accounting for other relevant factors. The findings generally confirm the dominant views found in the child welfare research literature regarding disproportionality in the CPS system. HHSC and DFPS are committed to examining all policies and procedures that may affect disparities and develop a remediation plan to address the problems identified in this report. A follow-up report will be provided to the Legislature in July 2006, as mandated.

    • Disproportionality in Child Protective Services: Policy Evaluation and Remediation Plan
      This report follows up on issues identified in "Disproportionality in Child Protective Services: Statewide REform Begins with Examination of the Problem". "Disproportionality in Child Protective Services: Policy Evaluation and Remediation Plan" is presented in three parts. It begins with a review of enforcement policies and the development of corresponding remediation plans, followed by a plan for additional research to examine the relationship of poverty, race, ethnicity, and risk in CPS case decisions. The final section of this report includes an update on the four cultural awareness activities mandated in Section 1.54 of Senate Bill 6:

    • developing and delivering cultural competency training to service delivery staff;
    • increasing targeted recruitment efforts of foster and adoptive families who can meet the needs of children who are waiting for permanent homes;
    • targeting recruitment efforts to ensure diversity among CPS staff; and
    • developing collaborative partnerships with community groups, agencies, faith-based organizations and other community organizations to provide culturally competent services to children and families of every race and ethnicity.

    • Addressing Disproportionality Through Undoing Racism, Leadership Development, and Community Engagement
      In 2005, the Texas 79th Legislature passed Senate Bill 6, which included mandates to address disproportionality. This article describes how the Texas Department of Family Protective Services in collaboration with Casey Family Programs’ Texas State Strategy systems improvement initiative is addressing disproportionality statewide through promising practices and innovations in undoing racism trainings, values-based leadership development, and community engagement strategies. Joyce James, Deborah Green, Carolyne Rodriguez, Rowena Fong. Child Welfare. Washington. Vol. 87, Issue 2, p. 279-96. (2008)

  • Washington State
    • Racial Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System in King County, Washington
      Qualitative and quantitative data on racial disproportionality, and a discussion of next steps. Prepared for the King County Coalition on Racial Disparity in November 2004.

    • Racial Disproportionality in Washington State
      In 2007, the Washington State Legislature passed, and Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law, a bill requiring the state to produce a study on racial disproportionality and a remediation plan for reducing it. In June 2008 the statewide Advisory Committee on Racial Disproportionality presented this report, which finds that Native American, Black and Hispanic children are over-represented in the child welfare system compared with White children, and that the disproportionality exists statewide. Hispanic children are referred to the system more frequently than white children.

    • Racial Disproportionality in Washington State's Child Welfare System
      This brief from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy summarizes the study listed above.

Teleconferences, Webcasts, and Webinars

  • Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare: Tools and Strategies for Change
    On May 24 and July 26, 2005, the NRCPFC and CWLA hosted two teleconferences for state foster care and adoption managers. To listen to the audio files, visit our archived teleconferences page.

  • Addressing Disproportionality in the Child Welfare System: What State Policymakers Should Know
    This webcast from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practice brought together experts to discuss the problem of the disproportional representation of minorities in the child welfare system and what states can do to so that all children and their families receive the appropriate level of supports and services needed to improve outcomes.

  • Understanding the Key Elements of a Successful Differential Response Approach: The Hawaii Experience (Archived NRCPFC Teleconference/ Webinar)
    At the conclusion of the first CFSR, Hawaii was faced with the challenge of needing to bring about significant change in nearly every outcome and systemic factor. The leadership committed to a fundamental shift in CPS practice which used a safety decision making framework and engaged community partners to create a Differential Response approach. This presentation will describe the approach, the process of community engagement, and the outcomes achieved. The key elements which have made this approach successful include leadership, a systemic change framework, and a solid decision making structure which enables consistent decisions about which families are best served in a traditional CPS investigation and which are better served by a voluntary community response. The results of this fundamental practice change include huge reductions in disproportionate placement of Native Hawaiian children, overall reductions in out of home placements, and reductions in repeat maltreatment. The Hawaii experience has demonstrated that a solid, well-defined, and well-implemented practice framework can produce positive outcomes for children and families. Click the link above to access the archived teleconference/webinar audio, PowerPoint presentation, and other materials. (2010)

  • Collaborating with Courts to Reduce and Eliminate Disparities
    This teleconference/webinar session highlighted initiatives within dependency court systems focused on reducing and eliminating disproportionality and disparities, and how these can be resources for child welfare agencies engaged in work in this area. This event was co-sponsored by the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI) and the National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues. (February 2011)


PowerPoint Presentations

NRCPFC Information Packets


  • Racial Equity in Child Welfare
    This project of the Center for the Study of Social Policy works to develop tools and frameworks to unravel the complexities of racial disproportionality and disparity in child welfare. The project features a national partnership to raise awareness of the problem and to take national, state and local action to improve policies and practices to reduce, and eventually eliminate, this problem. One resource available is a fact sheet that indicates the statistical overrepresentation of African-American children and black-white disparity among children in foster care in the 50 States for the year 2000.

  • Race Matters Consortium
    This diverse group of child welfare experts represents research, policy, administration, practice, and advocacy. They first joined together in 1999 to systematically examine disproportional representation of individuals of different races and ethnic groups in the child welfare system. Today the Consortium has expanded its mission to not only examine the disproportional representation, but to get a better understanding of those practices that will address the needs of children of color more appropriately, and to collaborate with others who understand the need for attention to the issues in an effort to influence change in child welfare practice and policy.


Last updated 7/3/13