Organizational History

The idea to form the Black Administrators in Child Welfare stemmed from an encounter at the 1970 meetings of the Council of Executive Directors of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) held in Miami, Florida. Acting on behalf of the few Black administrators in attendance, Howard Prunty interrupted a general session to voice their concerns. While the presentation was limited to the inconspicuous number of blacks appointed to management positions in the CWLA member agencies, and the reluctance of those agencies to respond appropriately to the need for specialized services for black children and their families, it was enough to formulate the beginning of the Black Administrators in Child Welfare.

Stimulated by the guidance of Howard Prunty, then CWLA consultant assigned to work with the group, a first meeting was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on May 22 and 23, 1971. Present at this meeting were thirteen black administrators. A committee was formed which included Valeria Bullard, Edmond D. Jones, and Benjamin Finley. This first official meeting resulted in a very focused discussion on the role and function of such an organization. After devising a strategy of coordinating activities and meeting schedules for this small number of black administrators who were employed by voluntary and public agencies in various parts of the country, the Black Administrators in Child Welfare was formally organized in 1971.

At the next meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 7, 8, and 9, 1972, the first major steps were taken to develop the philosophical groundwork for the organization. This philosophy emerged in the form of goals that became the direction for the future of the organization:

  • To ensure that the black experience becomes a part of the awareness, understanding and service delivery of child welfare agencies throughout the nation so that black clients can be better served in a manner which enriches the lives of black children and families receiving services;
  • To establish a structure which provides knowledge about the black experience in child welfare programs where it does not exist, and to assist agencies in understanding the concept;
  • To aid in the identification of black administrators, and assist them to secure administrative positions in public and voluntary human resource agencies, hospitals, and institutions;
  • To make available opportunities for exchange of administrative experiences among black administrators which will expand and enrich their skills, experience, and administrative potential; and
  • To develop and extend services to all children, with emphasis on the needs of black children and their identity.

From its beginning, and even now, Black Administrators in Child Welfare has worked to better serve black children and their families. It has continued to refine its role within the American social welfare system since the historic first meeting of the founding members in 1971. Valeria Bullard, past chairperson, along with Edmond D. Jones, and Benjamin Finley met at the home of Wetonah B. Jones in Philadelphia, and adopted an administrative and social practice philosophy, which guides the activities of the organization even today. It is designed to stimulate productive child welfare practice for all children, but affords a special challenge for blacks, as well as whites, as follows:

  • To ensure that all black children will receive protection, nurturing and development of positive self images;
  • To ensure mutual communication and support;
  • To serve as consultants in order to assist organizations like the Child Welfare League of America in the evaluation of any agency where the black population served is in excess of twenty percent; and
  • To develop and maintain administrative internship programs, which will serve as a means of encouraging and training potential black administrators in preparation for executive level positions.

The Child Welfare League of America endorsed the need for the organization from its beginning as evidenced by their assignment of staff to work with the group. Gwendolyn Davis, then librarian at the League, served as the liaison representative from 1973 to 1980.

Financial support was provided annually by the League from 1973 to 1982, and was used to help defray travel costs and meeting expenses for the quarterly meetings of the membership. Meetings were then being held in various cities along the east coast where most of the members resided. By 1973 the membership had increased to 40 members and has remained at or above this level since that time.

Like most organizations, BACW has had to adopt, and then abandon several organizational formats in its search for a workable structure that encourages participation of its membership. A five-member steering committee was appointed to govern the organization in 1971 and committees were appointed as needed to review critical issues. In 1973, the membership adopted position papers on day care, institutional care, adoption, and foster care which served, then and now, as guidelines for members to use when participating on various national work groups, task forces, and conferences. Three standing committees were approved by the Board to address issues in a more organized way in 1974. These committees were child welfare education, child welfare practice, and organization relations. While the titles of some of these committees have changed over the years, these three areas continue to be primary areas of focus for the organization’s work today.

The beginning of BACW’s most significant reorganization began in 1974. Members wanted to move the organization to assume a more advocacy role and address more national legislative issues. Long range goals were developed and members began participating in national conferences of social welfare groups as a way to share and exchange ideas and beliefs about services to Black children.

In 1975, a nine-member board of directors was appointed, and a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer were elected. The board replaced the steering committee as the governing body and the organization was incorporated September 29, 1975 in New York State. The board was later expanded to eleven members to reflect regional representation of its membership. A three standing committee format — social action, child welfare services, and budget was established to replace the various committees that had previously existed. With the exception of special committees established to address a particular issue, all matters addressed by the organization were handled by one of the standing committees. Today, the standing committees are: Policy and Legislation; child welfare programs; membership; and budget and finance, and are the pivotal points of all BACW activities.

The focus of the organization’s interest was gradually changed in order to expose the membership to more current administrative and practice trends in child welfare. Seminars and workshops are used to introduce knowledgeable speakers at the quarterly meetings to discuss topics on black practice issues, new trends in financial management and budgeting, changes in legislative direction, and the legal interventions in the operation of government programs.

BACW ran a successful one-year internship program funded by the Weyerhauser Foundation, with two professional social workers completing the program after being provided with on-the-job administrative training by black administrators in the organization. George Silcott designed the program, which was supervised by Doris McKelvey.

BACW completed a special report on, “Services to Black Children In Their Own Homes,” in November 1980. A practical strategy for implementation of this report, “Development of a Family Maintenance System: An Improvement To The Child Welfare System,” was first presented at the Central Regional Conference of the Child Welfare League of America, in April 1981. Many of the components of the Family Maintenance System have been incorporated into the various Family Preservation programs that have evolved in the past decade around the country.

Led by John Purnell, BACW members prepared a long-range plan in July 1981 designed to lead the expansion of the organization over a five-year period. Attention was focused on expanding and broadening the membership, the organization’s structure, its funding, the programs and its national policy emphasis. Included in these objectives were the employment of a professional staff person and the creation of a national and regional office. Joyce Johnson was selected as the part-time staff director for BACW in 1985 and the national office was co-located with the Child Welfare League of America in Washington, DC.

In 1989, BACW hired a writer to assist in the revision and preparation of a set of policy statements representing the organization’s position on the provision of child welfare services to Black children. Statements covering adoption, foster family care, in-home services, residential childcare, volunteers, and child protective services were adopted.

In the 1990s, BACW convened a 40 member national commission to study the role of culture in risk assessment instruments in the child welfare system. It published a special issue of the Child Welfare journal, “Perspectives on serving African American Children, Youth and Families,” which featured African American authors and, “Children in Social Peril: A Community Vision for Preserving Family Care of African American Children and Youth;” developed a training seminar entitled “A Journey Towards Cultural Competency,” which has been used to train child welfare staff across the country.

BACW has held its national annual meetings for 35 years, which has grown from a small 1-day symposium to a 2- and one-half-day conference with as many as 600 participants in attendance. These conferences feature dynamic African American experts in child welfare and related areas, as plenary speakers, workshop presenters, regional meetings, advisory committee meetings and a village celebration. These meetings have been held in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. In 2007, the conference was held in Baltimore, MD, and the Board decided to move the conference around the country for future gatherings. The 2009 conference will be held March 8-10, in Long Beach, CA. The theme: “Bridging the Gap for Our Children, Our Legacy.”

In August 2001, under the leadership of President Richardson, Sondra M. Jackson was hired as BACW’s first Executive Director. Her charge was to provide BACW with more visibility in the child welfare community and to develop opportunities for the organization to become a strong voice and powerful force on behalf of African American children and families. Through Sondra Jackson’s leadership, BACW has become an active participant in child welfare advocacy, policy and practice, membership has increased, and the organization has become autonomous from CWLA.

As an organization still working to establish links with key stakeholders and to be accepted as a vital and credible partner in advocating for African American children and families, in October 2006, BACW moved its offices to a new location at 900 Second Street, NE, Suite 217, Washington DC. President Danzy writes, “On the one hand, it signals a new stage for BACW. On the other hand, it means a change in the existing relationship with CWLA. I believe that this move was ultimately necessary for BACW.

During the past thirty-six years, BACW has had eight presidents: Valeria Bullard, Wetonah B. Jones, John Purnell, Ernestine F. Jones, Howard Prunty, Raymond Cooper, Jestina L. Richardson, and currently, Julia Danzy. Each of these presidents has contributed to the progress of the organization. These have been proud years for the membership because of the desire to better the conditions of black families and children who rely upon the American child welfare system for survival. BACW has addressed many salient child welfare issues, such as family preservation and placement prevention, treatment disparities and disproportionality, cultural competency and the workforce, transracial adoption, kinship care, emancipated youth, teen pregnancy, and the plight of young black males. Some actions have resulted in progress, but there have also been disappointments.

We have been through many struggles and have encountered many impediments, but the desire to improve the plight of black children has been the impetus for the continuation of BACW and has sustained the ups and downs in the membership growth and participation. The organization has addressed all issues, big and small, where the welfare of children was concerned. BACW is a young, but strong and resilient organization, dedicated to working towards helping black families and children. Its aim is to build not destroy, to create not tear down, and to be — not to exist.

BACW is a village of concerned black administrators with a commitment and dedication to serve the best interests of “our children, our legacy.”