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Study finds race is factor in foster care numbers

August 4, 2007 by  
Filed under Health, News

( A disproportionate number of the children entering and staying in foster care are black, even though children of all races are equally as likely to suffer abuse and neglect, a federal watchdog agency says in a new report.

States can do more to find permanent homes for black children, the Government Accountability Office said, adding that Congress should consider reforming child welfare rules to allow legal guardians to receive monthly subsidy payments.

“Current evidence indicates that allowing such subsidies could help states increase the number of permanent homes available for African-American and other children in foster care,” according to the GAO report, which was released Monday by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

A child’s need for a permanent home is not dictated by the color of his or her skin. And yet this report clearly confirms that African-American children are much more likely to be stuck in foster care limbo than other children,” said Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on income security and family support, which has been holding hearings on foster care issues.

Most federal child welfare funding is an open-ended entitlement to states, who care for abused, neglected and abandoned children. The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing that states be given the option of getting a capped grant to use for the child welfare services of their choice, including subsidized legal guardianships. But the Child Welfare League of America rejects such a “state-optional block grant” and instead supports congressional bills that would expand child welfare funding of legal guardianships.

In its report on “African American Children in Foster Care,” the GAO said that in 2004, black children accounted for 162,911, or 34 percent, of the 482,541 children in state care. This is double the proportion of black children in the general child population, the GAO said.

To explain this “racial disproportionality,” the GAO checked to see whether there was more abuse and neglect in black families, but the federal National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect showed that children of all races and ethnicities are equally likely to be abused or neglected.

The GAO concluded that poverty and racial bias played roles in getting black children into foster care. It also found that black children stayed in the system longer because they were often placed with relatives in subsidized “kinship care.” It was hard to move these children into permanent arrangements, the GAO said, because black relatives didn’t like seeking termination of parental rights — which meant they couldn’t adopt the children — or they didn’t want to become legal permanent guardians and forfeit the “kinship care” subsidy.

As an alternative to adoption, subsidized guardianship is considered particularly promising for helping African-American children exit from foster care,” the GAO said.

By Cheryl Wetzstein

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