Every year we celebrate a man, Martin Luther King Jr., who courageously fought for equality for generations past, present and future. We highlight his courage, his love, and his character. We look around and high five each other, because ‘we’ve’ come a long way. And yet, most days are but a poor reflection of what truly should be. We seemingly gloss over the ugliness of reality with catchy quotations spread throughout the social media world, while overlooking the messy brokenness that still wrecks entire communities.
To understand some of this, one must only look to the numbers presented within the foster care system. Numbers, frequently quoted in relation to a term known as ‘disproportionality’.
In 2011, more than half of the children entering foster care in the U.S. were children of color.
Black or African American children are disproportionately more likely than other children to be reported, investigated, substantiated, and placed in foster care. – Children’s Rights (www.childrensrights.org)
Does that quote catch your attention? Now, we can all start cranking out excuse after excuse about why this might be the case. Some of which may be valid points, as such, a lot of deep issues are built into disproportionality. But, let me tell you about what I often struggle with as an advocate and professional in the child welfare field. I struggle with the reality that there are a significant number of foster and adoptive families, who simply do not want an African American child. Here is a list of things I’ve heard over the past nine years,
- We are open to other races, but not African American. We are just not sure we could effectively meet their cultural needs.
- We are open to other races, just not African American. We do not feel we would know how to deal with their hair and skin care needs.
- We are open to other races, except African American. We are worried our extended family may not accept them.
- We would prefer not to be placed with an African American child, because we are not ready for the questions people might ask us when they see us out in public.
- We would prefer a Caucasian child, so that they will look like us.
- We really want to have a placement soon, but we are willing to wait until it is a Caucasian child.
- We are open to bi-racial children, as long as, one of the races is Caucasian and the other race is not African American.
Yep, I didn’t make any of these statements up. Can I tell you something else? Most states struggle to place African American children in adoptive homes. In the state that I live, work, and foster in, children of minority races above the age of 2 are classified as ‘special needs’ adoptions and subsidies are provided in hopes of encouraging families to adopt such children.
But wait, take a moment to read this beautiful quote from Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,
“….one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers….”
Let that sink in. No really; pause, reflect, and let the beauty of that statement soak into the depths of your soul. Now ask yourself, why do we so often avoid the African American child in the foster care system? Oh, we will take the Hispanic, Caucasian, or even Asian child, but “dadgum, we just don’t know how we’d parent that African American child.” What the ___________?!? (you fill in the blank)
Now, to be fair, I could have written a completely separate blog (and, maybe I will) about all the beautiful stories I have seen of transracial fostering and adoption. Families who love the children in their home, despite any differences in race. Of moms and dads seeking out anyone and everyone they can find to give them information regarding what hair and skin products work best for ‘their child’. Families celebrating differences and aspiring to immerse their child fully into their cultural heritage. But, today, in the midst of all the quotes, posts, and reflections my heart stopped instead on the ‘why?’
We have come so far, but, ‘why’ are we still not there? We can do better America. Child after child in the foster care system needs us too.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
***I realize this is a heavy conversation and all parts of the conversation cannot be worked out and stated in a simple blog post. I also respect families being honest during the licensure process about their personal limitations. Regardless, as an advocate for children in foster care, I feel this is a topic to highlight, address, and bring to light.
If you want to learn more about ‘disproportionality’ in Foster Care ask Google, or click on one of the links provided below.