Racial Inequities in Foster Care Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 exacerbated racial inequities in the child welfare system — particularly for Black and multiracial children, youth and families — according to Bethany Christian Services. In its recently released publication, What the Pandemic Taught Us: Innovative Practice Report, Bethany analyzed data from its child welfare programs from before and during COVID-19 (March 1 through Oct. 31 in 2019 and 2020) in four cities: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Like many areas in society, the pandemic exposed inequities in our child welfare system and this study clearly shows it,” says Cheri William, senior vice president of domestic programs at Bethany.
Disparities Within the Foster Care System
Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, What the Pandemic Taught Us found that entries into and exits from foster care — both nationally and within Bethany’s programs — declined during the pandemic due to reductions in child maltreatment reports and investigations and delayed permanency planning. Other key findings:
- While 21% fewer children entered Bethany’s foster care homes amid the pandemic, 12% fewer children exited the care homes as compared to 2019.
- Children in Bethany’s foster homes experienced a 24% increase in their length of stay, demonstrating that paths to permanency were delayed during the pandemic.
- Bethany found inequitable discharges from care for children who are Black, Native American or youth of color. Black children accounted for 23% of the foster care population despite making up 13% of the overall child population.
- In 2019 and 2020, Black children made up 43% and 40%, respectively, of residents entering Bethany’s foster care homes, which is 19% to 22% higher than national averages.
- The homes included in this study saw a 9% decrease in Black children leaving foster care between 2019 and 2020. These children also experienced the lowest reunification rates with their families.
Bethany makes several recommendations for improving and creating a more equitable child foster care environment, including:
- All levels of government should support families and reduce the need to remove children from their homes. Governments also should increase family reunification efforts for those children who are placed in foster care.
- Child welfare organizations should better assess inequities within their systems by collecting and analyzing data by race. By disaggregating data, these organizations can design, target and implement solutions intended to help families.
- Child welfare policies should be reviewed and, where necessary, overhauled to include a focus on race-based inequalities and racial equity. This should include supporting families at risk of losing children to the foster care system, including re-evaluating the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act Reform and continued implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act.
Bethany’s report also found that investing in and making use of technology enhanced Bethany’s ability to support all stakeholders amid the pandemic, including staff, foster care clients and birth families. Virtual platforms allowed those in foster care to connect with birth families with ease while in-person meetings were discouraged. Technology also enabled foster and birth families to better connect with and support each other.
As social distancing measures are relaxed and face-to-face contact increases, Bethany believes these technological tools can continue to facilitate stronger, more flexible connections with child welfare teams.