One of the most challenging issues of the social services system is addressing disproportionality. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges tracks disproportionality in the child welfare system. The Council defines disproportionality as the level at which groups of children are present in the child welfare system at higher or lower percentages or rates than in the general population. An index of 1.0 reflects no disproportionality. An index of greater than 1.0 reflects overrepresentation. An index of less than 1.0 reflects underrepresentation.
The index in 2013 was as follows:
African American 1.8
Am Indian/AK Native 2.5
The index shows how disproportionality is concentrated in African American and American Indian/Alaska Native families. In 1978 Congress addressed disproportionality of the latter through the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Casey Family Programs released a compliance study of ICWA in 2015. They reported that there are inconsistent and varying degrees of state compliance with ICWA. There is no federal oversight or enforcement of the law. A lot more needs to be done to preserve Indian families and their culture.
There is no federal law regarding African American disproportionality. In Minnesota, the state United Black Legislative Caucus is introducing the African American Family Preservation Act. The legislation aims to improve outcomes for black families involved with child protection, including by keeping more children with family members and relatives.
While there are various initiatives and programs to address disproportionality, one program has already been demonstrated effective in reducing disproportionality. In a large study of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), over 30,000 children in one state’s child welfare system were categorized by race, risk, and services received. The results were as follows:
High-risk minority children receiving traditional services were at higher risk of placement than White children, but minority children receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than White children. When only minority children were examined, those receiving IFPS were less likely to be placed than those receiving traditional services.
Why is IFPS effective in reducing disproportionality? Here are some principles of IFPS that contain some answers:
1. The family is the best resource for the nurture, care, and well-being of children.
2. The most durable way to help children is to help their parents.
3. Keeping families safely together, whenever possible, must be the highest priority of government laws, policies, and funding.
4. Because the integrity of the family is critical to its functioning, services to families must primarily focus on keeping families together or reunifying families when out-of-home
placement is necessary.
5. Services provided in the home demonstrate respect for families and allow for optimal assessment of needs and delivery of services.
6. Families must be assessed for strengths as well as weaknesses. Strengths can be used to help address weaknesses.
7. All members of the family must be offered services, including fathers, whether residing or not residing in the home. Involving fathers can have a beneficial effect on both the
children and the children’s mother.
8. Families must be involved in decisions about every aspect of an intervention: safety, assessment, goals, services, progress, placement (if necessary), and outcomes.
9. Families must be empowered through services, not kept dependent on them. Services should be provided only until the family is stabilized and has the necessary skills to remain safely
together. Families can then choose whether or not they want additional services.
10. We owe families the best possible services at the lowest cost to whoever is paying for the services. All services must be evaluated for their effectiveness and cost-benefit.
Posted by Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director