Increasingly, African American professionals, advocates and community-based leaders are acknowledging the unacceptable level of childhood vulnerability within their respective communities and debating its cause and solutions. Social, physical, psychological and economic assaults on African American children have reached alarming and disproportionate levels. What began as a groundswell of concern has achieved unprecedented visibility. Recent estimates regarding the placement of African American children in out-of-home care paint a frightening and dismal picture.
Almost half of the children currently in out-of-home placement care are children of color. Research shows that African American families are reported to the system at a greater rate than Caucasian families but do not abuse or neglect their children at a greater rate. As a result, African American children are at a higher risk of entering the system. Concurrent with these troubling statistics is the alarming acceleration in the placement of African American children in juvenile justice facilities. A recent study showed that over a half a million children in the child welfare system ultimately end up in the juvenile justice system. Of those people in prison, 70% have had at least one foster care placement—with foster care being their first experience of rejection and isolation. As a result, many of these children are destined to become non-productive citizens and often continue the cycle of abuse and neglect, as these ill-equipped children become parents themselves.
African American children enter out-of-home care because of substantiated reports of maltreatment or neglect, or as they grow older, because of legal or public policy offenses they have committed against society. Not only are African American children more likely to be in out-of-home care than their Caucasian counterparts, but they are also more likely to enter care at an earlier age and to remain in care longer than children from other racial and ethnic groups.
Too often, the problem’s definition and potential solutions are approached from the viewpoint of the dominant culture. Very few African Americans have a coveted seat at the policy table, and even when they do, their voices often fall on ears that neither hear nor heed them. The solutions put forth to address the placement phenomenon, over time, have become increasingly punitive and ineffective. The only perspective that has not been put forth repeatedly is the capacity of the African American community to look at itself, develop a consensus regarding culturally relevant responses to the needs of its children, and independently arrive at and advocate for its own answers to these complex questions. Seeing out-of-home placement as the root cause of the current criminal justice system, and focusing on the long-term impact on communities and society at large, BACW’s emphasis is on prevention and continues to refine its role with the changing times. Since the organization’s inception , it has focused on advocacy for children and families and on influencing child welfare practice and policy. In the 1980s the focus was on efforts that would have a longer-term impact on the field and subsequently the way Black children and families would be served. In the 1990s BACW moved toward influencing the leadership and decision-making process.