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


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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).

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