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PCSAO issues statement on racism, equity in children services

The Board of Trustees issued the following statement today:

In the wake of civil unrest and worldwide protest over systemic racism in law enforcement, it would be too easy for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio (PCSAO) to decry the impact of police brutality on black lives and black families. These times are forcing people, organizations, and entire industries to take a hard look in the mirror. And as the association of county agencies that investigate child abuse and neglect, we as the Board of Trustees and staff cannot shy away from the reality that many African-American families and people of color view the children services system through much the same lens as they view the police.

Black children are overrepresented in foster care, making up 30 percent of kids in custody when they make up only 13 percent of Ohio’s child population. These children are more likely to linger in foster care, less likely to achieve permanence, and more likely to be placed in restrictive institutional settings than their white peers. Clearly, we have work to do to address these disparate outcomes – and the systemic bias inherent in our field that causes them.

Certainly, when it comes to child protection, factors such as poverty, housing, behavioral and physical health, and domestic violence matter. But so does race. That is why PCSAO supports declaring racism to be a public health crisis.

What more can we do? We must take advantage of the current support for overall transformation in the children services system presented by two opportunities: leadership at the state level combined with a new federal law to prevent children from entering foster care. Gov. DeWine and the General Assembly have made unprecedented state investments in children services, and the federal Family First Prevention Services Act offers new avenues for supporting vulnerable families. We must capitalize on these transformational changes to help overcome the institutionalized racism in our own system.

The Board of Trustees, our members and staff are committed to examining racism and inequities within Ohio’s children services system, developing concrete recommendations and taking action. Here are some strategies that have worked elsewhere:

  • Address diversity and equity with training and other supports for workers, supervisors, resource families (foster, kin, adoptive and birth families), and mandated reporters;
  • Invest in frontline staff of color so that they can move into management and leadership positions within our primarily white-led agencies;
  • Identify and fund culturally appropriate prevention programs that help keep families of color together;
  • Consider strategies such as “blind” screening to prevent bias from creeping into decisions about which families are selected for intervention; and
  • Recruit a diverse and qualified pool of resource families who can foster, mentor, and support children of color in custody and their parents in order to return children to their families of origin and avoid placing them in institutions.

It is not enough to condemn law enforcement or criminal justice if we are not also willing to look at our own inherent and systemic biases. Transforming the child protection system will be hard, costly work. It must be part of reforming the larger society to be more tolerant, more inclusive, and more equitable. We owe it to children of color who through no fault of their own find themselves moving from one institution to another until all they know is how to function in institutions rather than families. We owe it to children of color, their parents and grandparents — and we owe it to ourselves.