Through the lens of the US Child Welfare System: Disproportionate treatment of Black children Part 1

First, looking from a historical view of Black families in the early days of the child welfare system showed signs of prejudice and racial processes and procedures. In 1973, Wilder v. Sugarman was brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union, which sues NY City for using racial discrimination in their child welfare system processes and procedures. [i] Shirley A. Wilder, a Black 12-year-old, was rejected services from city-funded Roman Catholic or Jewish foster-care agencies, which resulted in Shirley receiving lower-quality care.[ii] The suit, later taken over by American Civil Liberties Union, was finally settled in 1986.[iii] The settlement did require NY city to use a more fair and equal process for their child welfare system, but from Shirley’s view, she was around 24 years old by this time.[iv] That time-lapse brought an oppressive systemic issue to Shirley’s involvement with the child welfare system. Due to Shirley being a Black child, she was forced to receive lower-quality care, and this oppression more than likely affected many other Black children.

Additionally, in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed to deal with the national problem of child abuse.[v] The goal of CAPTA is to tackle reports of child abuse by providing funds and guidance to states, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations.[vi] CAPTA, which has been amended several times, was put in place to rectify child abuse cases.[vii] Yet, the proportion of children in need of abusive situations is small, and there lacks sufficient evidence that the services provided through CAPTA have reduced abusive incidents.[viii]

From the time of passing CAPTA, the child welfare program’s representation of Black children started increasing. With this increase, the process of screening, investigating, and assessing Black families who had a report of child abuse and/or neglect became more likely to be assigned for investigation. In the state of Texas, a study found that even when a Black family has a lower risk score than Whites, Blacks were more likely to have their case acted upon, either by some type of service provision or possibly having the child taken away from the parents. This sample shows that the individuals who work the cases have dissimilar risk approaches based on a family’s racial makeup. [ix] With the federal statute of CAPTA being enacted, there was a trickle-down effect to ensure that this legislation is making a broad change in abuse cases. Yet, statistics and studies show that the broad change with the passage of CAPTA targets Black families. Black families are seen through the media and others implicit/explicit bias as the families that are more than likely abusing their children at higher rates than other racial families. This has put a detrimental burden on Black families to not only do their best to not be reported to not experience such scorn treatment from a broken CPS system, but also it creates an oppressive feeling that no matter how hard a Black mother and/or father might try to avoid being reported abuse and neglect there is a still a strong possibility a small slip up can result in a broken family.


[i] Wilder v. Sugarman, 385 F. Supp. 1013 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1974).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Wilder v. Bernstein, 645 F. Supp. 1292 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1986).

[iv] Id.

[v] Lindsey Duncan, The Welfare of Children, 22 W. Mich. Univ. The J. of Socio. & Socio. Welfare 148 (1955).

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Supra at note 2 (May 15, 2021, 5:05 PM).

COVID-19 and Child Poverty: How a Pandemic Showed Us We Have a Choice

Over the course of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of child poverty in the United States has fallen dramatically “from 14.2% in 2018 to less than 5.6% in 2021” with severe poverty cutting almost in half.[1] In fact, the 2020 child poverty rates in the United States were the lowest they have been since the 1960s when the US Census Bureau began measuring child poverty rates.[2]

The decrease in child poverty is due to the government’s expansion “of the social safety net,” including the “child tax credit and funding for food.”[3] The child tax credit alone decreased child poverty by approximately 40 percent after providing families with monthly checks to cover basic necessities.[4] In addition to the child tax credit, “other safety-net expansions” provided during the pandemic included “three stimulus checks, a moratorium on evictions, increased unemployment benefits and more funding for food, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing.”[5] According to research, if these safety-net options were not provided, approximately one out of three children in the United States “would be living in poverty.”[6]

However, experts warn that permitting these “measures to expire may” result in child poverty rates increasing once again.[7] The child tax credit already expired in January 2022, resulting in 3.7 million more children in poverty, “a 41% increase from December.”[8] Families who previously used the child tax credit to cover basic necessities are struggling to provide their families with “food, pay rent and keep the lights on,” especially because prices continue to rise.[9]

Not only is alleviating poverty the right thing to do, but there are also economic benefits for reducing the rate of child poverty.[10] In fact, the National Academy of Sciences found that “child poverty costs the US between $800bn and $1.1tn each year” due to “lost adult productivity and the increased cost of health and criminal justice spending.”[11]

The safety-net expansions implemented during the pandemic demonstrate how allowing children to remain in poverty is a choice and how we know some ways to end child poverty.[12] Now, it is time to implement policies to end child poverty once and for all.


[1] Melody Schreiber, Child poverty will rise if US withdraws COVID-era benefits, experts warn, Guardian (Mar. 17, 2022) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/17/us-child-poverty-rate-welfare-measures-expire-experts.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

New Research Analyzes the Effects of Foster Care on Children’s Well-Being

New research, published in April analyzes the effectiveness of the foster care system in Michigan.[1] In what is perhaps a surprising result, children who enter the foster care system are better off than their peers who remain with their parents.

A recent study showed that 6% of all American children spend some amount of time in the foster care system. That number is much higher for children of color: 10% of Black children enter the foster care system at some point in their childhood, and 15% of Native American children enter the system at some point.[2]

Economists have been studying foster care outcomes since 2007. Previous research studied foster care outcomes from Illinois and found that foster care hurt children more than leaving children in the home.[3] That study looked at children on the margin – those who were on the boundary between being removed from the home and staying with parents – to show that those who were removed from the home were convicted of crimes at higher rates, and had lower long-term incomes.

This study uses the same research design in Michigan, and suggests the opposite result: these authors found that foster care reduced the likelihood that children were alleged to be victims of abuse by 52%, increased daily school attendance by 6%, and a small decrease in findings of juvenile delinquency.

So why is Michigan so different from Illinois? These authors suggest that Illinois’ foster care system was especially harmful, so rather than foster care in general harming children, Illinois’ implementation of foster care was to blame. As evidence, they show that Illinois children spent the longest amount of time in the system in the country, while Michigan is closer to average.

Another possible explanation is that foster care has simply improved over time. The authors cite to a child trends study which shows that children are now spending less time in the system, and are being placed with family members more often.[4]

What does this mean for those interested in child policy? It’s not quite clear. Hopefully, research like this will prompt other states to look at their own foster care programs to see if they are more like Illinois or Michigan. We know that removing a child from the home is a drastic measure that should only be taken when absolutely necessary. Nothing here suggests that more children should enter foster care, only that in this particular jurisdiction, it is effective for the child on the bubble between removal and remaining in the home.

My takeaway is this: good foster care that helps children is possible. It might look like shorter stays in the system and more placements with family members. It definitely looks like states should be analyzing their foster care systems with the most advanced tools possible, like the ones these economists employed.


[1] Max Gross & E. Jason Baron, Temporary Stays and Persistent Gains: The Causal Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 14(2): 170–199 (2022).

[2] Emanuel Wildeman, Cumulative Risks of Foster Care Placement by Age 18 for U.S. Children, 2000–2011, PLoS ONE 9(3): e92785 (2014).

[3] Joseph J. Doyle, Jr., Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care, American Economic Review 97 (5): 1583-1610 (2007) (“the results suggest that children on the margin of placement tend to have better outcomes when they remain at home, especially older children.”).

[4] Child Trends, Child Trends Databank, https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/foster-care.