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Why are huge numbers of Black, Latino children in California foster care?

By Charlene Muhammad and Angelita Muhammad | Last updated: Apr 23, 2012 - 6:24:03 PM

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Hearings held but a basic question remains unanswered, say advocates

LOS ANGELES ( - Child advocates and activists charge money is the driving force behind California’s racially imbalanced foster care system and statewide hearings on the disproportionate numbers Black and Latino children in child welfare have offered no viable solutions.

According to statistics, Black children make up six percent of the state’s population but 25 percent of its foster care system. Latino children, 38 percent of the state’s residents, are 51 percent of children in foster care.

“It’s not about racism. It’s about the up to $150,000 cost the system gets for caring for each child and the fact that they’re ignoring current laws that say what can and can’t be done to and with children and families,” said Attorney L. Wallace Pate, a longtime child and family advocate.

That rolls over into people thinking they can do anything to Black people simply because they are vulnerable, she said.

“It’s due to the fact that kids are not getting any due process. For instance, families are supposed to have a trial but they are taking children within 15 days ... and the reason they target African American people is because we’re so disenfranchised, so it’s about money,” Atty. Pate said. The state’s motivation for weighing the plight of Black and Latino youth in foster care could be funding for foster care from the Obama administration, she said.

According to the National Foster Care Coalition, the Obama administration’s 2013 budget proposes a $252 million ($2.5 million over 10 years) incentive fund targeting improvements in the child welfare system in key areas, such as reducing how long children stay in foster care, increasing permanent placements through reunifications, adoptions and guardianships, and decreasing maltreatment, among other things.

“As long as people keep yelling racism, they’ll never get anywhere. If they call it racism, then they know they’ll never have to fix it but the elephant in the room is being ignored: Why don’t they follow the law that’s on the books?” Atty. Pate said.

Jim Beall, Jr., chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Foster Care, said the legislature has tried to pass laws to address the disparities but failed. The hearings are a part of its new approach in light of Governor Jerry Brown’s Realignment Plan, which shifts responsibility and control of the foster care system to counties, he said.

The goal is to force local governments to address the disparities through a bill that would require counties to establish outcome measures and goals, and report on them by the end of 2013. If passed, the law would go into effect January 3, 2013.

“The question would then be is the system responding in a culturally competent, correct manner to eliminate the disparities at issue?” Assemblyman Beall said.

More than 100 parents, child advocates, community activists and faith-based leaders turned out for an April 4 hearing at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services to hear more about the state’s plans. A hearing addressing Latino youth in foster care was held in San Jose in January, and a third session is planned for San Francisco soon.

Assemblyman Beall said lawmakers are hearing a lot of anecdotal stories about insensitivity and system wide racism. One former foster care resident spoke about how racial and ethnic disparities affected her in terms of not receiving hair and skin care products sensitive to Black consumers, and feeling awkward and isolated as a young Black girl in a White family.

Others shared how some resources for emancipated youth, those released from foster care after reaching age 18, have helped them to succeed. But the hearing left some wanting and a few lamented what they called a limited discussion about how Black youth actually came to be an excessive number of the state’s foster care population.

“They cited numbers, evoked emotion, but didn’t get to the vein of the problem. What is the history of the foster care system, why are so many Black children trapped in it, and what is going to be done about the disparities,” one female audience member said to The Final Call.

Congresswoman Karen Bass said California has been studying the best practices and challenges of other states to help children and families. In Miami, she said, the foster care system has been privatized. She said it is an interesting scenario, but did not elaborate.

“Bottom line, what’s at stake, according to the guidance that’s been given to us by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, is a generation doomed for total destruction. And if we don’t intervene on their behalf we already see what the system is geared for. It is the modern day movement and plantation to take us back into slavery,” said Student Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Regional representative of the Nation of Islam.

He continued, “They gave us alarming numbers, such as one in five of those children in foster care is living a slightly sane life. Seventy percent of prisoners come out of the foster care system. Thirty percent of the homeless population derive from foster care. Sixty percent of the children in foster care are on psychotropic medications.”

According to Min. Muhammad, community activists are planning a town hall meeting to further explore the disparities and chase the money trail linked to foster care to get to the cause of high numbers of Black and Brown children under state care.