Structural racism is embedded in the laws and regulations of many of our systems and institutions in the United States. The child welfare system is no different. When looking at the demographics of Texas families involved in the system, Black and Brown children are disproportionately represented.
Here in the United States, culture and policy often center around the idea of the “perfect American” family. Typically, this traditional family includes a husband, wife, and children living in one home. Typically, this family is white and middle class. They own a home and a car. The dad goes to work and the mom stays at home caring for the children and handling domestic duties. Their extended family does not live in their home.
In reality, most families do not fit this mold. Many families in the United States are racially and ethnically diverse. Both parents work. Some families are led by a single parent or by parents of the same gender. Others choose to co-parent in different households. Some families have three generations living in the same household. Over time, different family structures have become the norm. The ideal of the “perfect American” family isn’t attainable or even desired by the majority of Americans, but it is an impossible standard that the child welfare system often holds families to. As a caregiver working within this system, you have a unique opportunity to be curious, remain open, and actively advocate against this impossible standard when working directly with families. This is at the heart of what a “compassionate caregiver” is.
We tend to judge parents who fall short of meeting the “perfect American” family standards, especially parents with marginalized identities. The child welfare system also judges parents who do not meet these standards. The child welfare system adheres to policies and rules that punish parents for not adhering to the white, middle-class style of parenting. For a Black parent, a transgender parent, a single parent, a family with multiple generations living in the home, or a family experiencing poverty, their identities make them more vulnerable to being judged for the choices they make and for coming into contact with the child welfare system. For example, Black, Native, and Brown parents have historically been judged for their “different” ways of parenting and have systematically been targets of family separation by the child welfare system. Today this justification of removing children from Black, Native, and Brown families continues in Texas.
Structural inequalities are further complicated by a failure to understand multigenerational trauma. Past and present inequity and injustice affect generations over time. Families’ situations and circumstances are further complicated by challenges with substance abuse, mental health, and poverty.
When we asked foster parent recruiters from Texas child-placing agencies why people want to become foster parents, they said that families have a moral, religious, and/or social justice-oriented calling to serve children. Recruiters often cited that prospective foster parents were looking to “grow” their families through adoption. When asked how many came into foster caregiving expecting to interact with the child’s biological family, the recruiters said only 5-10% were expecting to engage. Recruiters often said that foster parents were “caring,” “selfless,” and had a “big heart.”
This campaign aims to show that to truly be compassionate as a caregiver, you must be ready to engage and include the child’s biological family in caregiving. Children do not need to be “rescued” from their families. Their families need your help caring for their children temporarily. To be a compassionate caregiver means to take time to understand the family’s circumstances and move past the perfect American family standard. Including a child’s family in the care of their child is in the best interest of the child, and “sets a model of healthy relationships for the child” according to the Texas Children’s Commission.
Learning about these important issues should be an essential and ongoing process as you continue your journey as a caregiver in Texas. This campaign provides resources about how to engage with birth families who may be experiencing some of this structural inequality and trauma. We also encourage you to learn and try to understand these issues beyond these resources. This is an active, ongoing learning process.
There is no way to become an “expert” in anti-racism or complex multigenerational trauma. It is a lifelong journey as we all learn how to best support one another. While these are big issues, you can begin to address them in the small, everyday ways caregivers show compassion toward families involved in child welfare
We invite you to check out the following resources:
In this video from Newsy, learn more about race-based traumatic stress and its effects on mental and physical health.
In this Ted Talk video, a pediatrician explains how trauma experienced in childhood affects brain development and mental and physical health through adulthood.
This short video features the program director of the Child Welfare Organizing Project discussing systemic racial injustices in the United States and the importance of advocating for yourself.
In this video, hear from a professional counselor discuss her book about experiencing and resolving racial trauma.
This video features people speaking about the effects of systemic racism on their lives and health.
In this TEDx Talk, hear a personal story of the effects of intergenerational trauma and repairing the harm done.
In this TEDx Talk,learn more about generational trauma and how to take steps toward healing.
In this video from AJ+, learn about a specific type of generational trauma and how it differs from PTSD.
In this TEDx Talk, hear from a social work professor about her experience as a Black child raised in foster care.
In this video, hear from an anti-racism educator about the nature of racism and strategies for coping with racial trauma.
In this TEDx Talk, here from a psychotherapist about the importance of trauma-informed care in the mental health field.
In this video, students at a charter school in Brownsville, TX, share their journeys toward resilience.
This op-ed from the associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau explores the role that poverty plays in child welfare decision-making.
This op-ed from a program director at the Child Welfare Organizing Project looks at the racism inherent in mass media coverage of the opioid epidemic.
This article from Kids Matter Inc. explores the history of Native American children being forced to attend boarding schools and the continued intergenerational trauma.
This op-ed explores both anecdotal and research evidence of racial disparities in the child welfare system.
In this essay written for Frontline PBS, a law professor considers the systemic issues at work in the child welfare system.
This article from a historian explores the disproportionate rates of Black and poor children removed from their families.
In this blog post written for CASA of Travis County, learn more about racial disproportionalities in the child welfare system.
An op-ed written for The Atlantic by a woman whose mother was forced to attend a boarding school and stripped of her Native American culture.
In this podcast, three experts discuss the effects of ACEs and intergenerational trauma on African American families.
A resource from Mental Health American on race-based traumatic stress and its stressors.
In this blog post from Child Trends, find tips and strategies for speaking with children about racism and supporting them through the effects of racial trauma
This op-ed explores the anti-Black racism inherent in the child welfare system.