Foster parent Cynthia Bradbury said a Los Angeles County social
worker last year overtly talked about race when it came to Bradbury's
foster son, Xander, 2, who is black. It was clear the worker did not
want her to adopt Xander, she said.
Xander has a congenital heart defect that will kill him without a heart transplant.
Bradbury is a registered nurse, and she's white.
"She said he needed to be with a black family," Bradbury said of the
social worker, who was black. "She asked: 'What are you going to do when
you have an African-American teenager standing in front of you?' And I
said would do the same thing I did with my own teenage son. "
Throughout Xander's case the social worker brought up race, Bradbury said. Bradbury said she felt like she was being harassed.
In a separate foster care case years ago, an 8-month-old girl was
removed from Bradbury's home by Orange County social workers because
another couple wanted a white baby.
"I loved that little baby, and I wanted to adopt her, but they took her anyway," Bradbury said.
County officials said race-based decisions are not allowed and that they would look into Bradbury's case.
On the other hand, there aren't many white and Latino couples
knocking down doors to adopt black children out of foster care, said
Johnston Moore of Long Beach.
Moore and his wife Terri are about to adopt their seventh child from Los Angeles' foster care system.
"When it's a cute little baby from Ethiopia, there are scores of
families willing to adopt," Moore said. "But if it's a traumatized
7-year-old boy from Compton, everybody runs the other way. "
Issues of race and foster care need to be discussed, otherwise they
will fester while policy makers focus on less-important topics, Moore
"There are some elephants in the room, but a lot of people don't want to talk about them," he said.
One of the main reason so many black children are in foster care is the length of time they stay in foster care.
County statistics show that black youth stay in foster care 50
percent longer than children of all other ethnic groups. In Los Angeles
County, the average foster care case lasts about a year and a half. But
for black children, it lasts more than two years.
This month, the county unveiled a 46-page study of why black children linger in the system so long.
The report called into question all the practices of the Department
of Children and Family Services, including asking hard questions about
the department's commitment in some of the county's poorest
Among other things, the study found:
- The office that serves South Los Angeles is 7 to 10 miles away from the neighborhood it serves and has no free parking.
- The social workers that serve black communities tend to transfer
to other offices after about a year, handing off all their cases to
- Case loads are highest in the neighborhoods that need the most service.
- Services offered to help families reunify with their children are applied unevenly, if at all.
The report said the department needs to put an office in South Los
Angeles and to evaluate whether social workers are simply checking off
lists or actually trying to help parents change enough to get their
children back. It asked the county to find a way to keep social workers
in the same offices so families have continuity of service.
It also called for "racial humility" classes to help social workers become more understanding of black families.
DCFS spokesman Armand Montiel said county executives for years have
been concerned about the rate of black children in foster care. The
county has a 5-year-old taskforce charged with finding out how best to
help the black children and families served by DCFS.
The department is planning to implement many of the changes suggested in the report.
"I think it's easy for us to say that this is a social welfare
problem, or this is a law enforcement problem, or this is an economic
problem and that we don't really have the power to change it," Montiel
said. "Yet there's pressure on us, both internally or externally. We
want to respond to that pressure. If we have to swim upstream, so be it.
We're not content to leave things how they are. "
The county report echoes a state audit released in 2012.
The state audit found that DCFS offices in neighborhoods with the
most black residents have higher rates of incomplete investigations and
For instance, the rate of incomplete investigations in offices that
serve the South Los Angeles neighborhoods was three times higher than
the department average.
Workers in those offices more often asked to get transferred or ended up quitting, according to the audit.
The state found that about 29 percent of social workers in the Compton DCFS office had less than two years of experience.
Poverty at the root
Researcher Brett Drake of Washington University in St. Louis' school
of social work said that poverty is the strongest factor correlated with
Blacks in the United States typically live in concentrated pockets of
"crushing poverty" that whites generally don't experience, he said.
When researchers control for poverty, the child maltreatment differences
between white and black families disappear.
Black households earn three times less than their white counterparts,
and a comparison of assets is even more disparate, Drake said. Race
matters far less than economic status, he said.
Drake is skeptical of the movement to address the problem through racial-sensitivity classes.
Racism may be a tiny problem, but it's not nearly as destructive as poverty, he said.
Counties should focus on trying to find out exactly why black
families are faring poorly in poverty-stricken black areas. And the
battle, he said, starts with trying to make sure that black children
don't grow up in extreme poverty.
"Blaming it all on bias is really the coward's way out," he said.
Toni Oliver, the vice
president for the National Association of Black Social Workers, said
big-city social welfare agencies across the country have got to take a
serious look at why so many black children are going into foster care
and staying in foster care so long.
Some states, such as Texas, have made strides to make systemic reforms across different levels of the government, she said.
Oliver hoped researchers and welfare executives would set aside their
philosophical differences and try to find ways to assist black children
and their families.
Children should not have to grow up in foster care, she said.
"We cannot accept things the way they are right now - we just can't,"
she said. "This has got to stay constructive. It's just that when you
start talking about race, everybody starts choosing sides. "
Since science helps researchers know what children are likely to be
reported for abuse or neglect, Putnam-Hornstein posited that the
government should seriously consider identifying young mothers with high
risk factors and then give intense government services to help
stabilize those same mothers. A change in the way at-risk mothers are
treated might help families of all races and ethnicities, she said.
"It's not really clear to me that we are doing everything we can to target these families that have higher risk," she said.
(sorry for my bad cut and paste job)