Fighting Systemic Racism in Foster Care | Getting Clear About Foster Care

Last updated: May 20, 2021, at 9:28 a.m. PT

Originally published: May 13, 2021, at 11:09 a.m. PT

Fighting System Racism in Foster Care

In Washington state kids of color, particularly Black and Native American children, are disproportionately represented in the foster care system due to systemic racism in home removal, structural inequities within family support systems, and implicit bias. According to the Washington Association for Children and Families, “One cause lies in the implicit biases that many within the system have — from those who report concerns to child protective services to the police officers, social workers, and court officials who then determine the child’s fate. They may believe they have the child’s best interests at heart, but studies have revealed that subconscious prejudice plays an outsized role in their decision-making process.”

While Washington State has started making necessary systemic changes to increase support for children and families who are at risk of entering foster care to prevent removal of children in the first place, there is still an immediate need for more families. In particular, the need is high for parents of color to become foster parents for youth currently in care.

“There is a great, great need for foster parents of color,” said Barbara Johnson, a foster parent who has been with the Y for 33 years. The vast majority, 80 percent, of foster parents in Washington are white, while 50 percent of the kids they serve are children of color. Washington needs more foster homes where children see themselves and their culture reflected to back them. Even though many communities of color already care for others kids independent of the Foster Care system, it is crucial for more families of color to consider becoming foster parents so children of color in care have a culturally appropriate home.

The ideal outcome for kids of color is to receive care from foster parents of their same race or cultural background, if that’s not possible, white foster parents need to commit to preparing themselves, and their family, to support the cultural needs of all children and to talk to kids about race. White foster parents must undertake meaningful antiracism work, acknowledging their own white privilege and support kids as they experience systemic racism. Having shared culture, or at least cultural competency in supporting kids of color is vital for reducing the amount of trauma accrued from being in the foster care system.

“The kids’ culture is really important and you need to find ways to access it. And if at all possible, it’s better to have thought about that and to have relationships prior to the kid coming to you. I have a friend in the adoption community, and she always says ‘Your child shouldn’t be your first Black friend’’  - Angie and Jen Kamel, Y foster parents

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