Racial Inequities in Foster Care Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Posted May 18, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog racialinequitesinfostercare 2021

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.

Rec­om­mend­ed solutions

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.

Stay­ing connected

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.

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