The Other Face of Child Protected Services

When looking at social change for communities of color, we must look at the bigger picture and target all entities that effect us. That means having a seat at the table with city council and other legislative agencies, the police department, public/social agencies, schools, and the list goes on. One of those agencies and concerns that needs to be addressed is the racial disproportionality in the child welfare system.

Let me give you a little insight to why this discussion is so important. Exhibit 3 of Racial Disproportionality in Washington State's Child Welfare System (Published June 2008) is why this conversation is so important.

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So, why is it that our population percentage is so low, but the number of cases involving children of color is so high?

"Racial disproportionality is defined as the overrepresentation of children of color in the child welfare system, compared to their numbers in the population. Racial disproportionality occurs across the United States in all social welfare systems. Disproportionality is a national problem. Children of color and their families who become involved with child welfare systems often experience disparate treatment and may have fewer service opportunities than their white peers.

Although abuse and neglect do not occur at higher rates for children of color compared to white children, they are more likely to be the subjects of allegations and referrals than their Caucasian counterparts. Moreover they enter child welfare systems at higher rates, remain in care for longer periods of time, are less likely to be placed in adoptive homes, and experience poorer outcomes than other children" Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

However, racial disproportionality isn't happening in just Washington State. Racial disproportionality is happening in the child welfare system across the nation. For example, The Casey Foundation released Children of Color: A Brief Overview (of Santa Clara County, CA's CPS) in 2006. It showed that while black children make up 2.7% of the population, 13.9% of the population is in CPS care. And, while hispanic children make up 35.4% of the population, 58.2% of the population is in CPS care.

So, how do we combat this. First, let's educate ourselves. Learn about the parties involved and their roles. Then, let's educated them about us. I had the opportunity to interview a detective for the Seattle Police Department's Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit, Scott Hatzenbuehler.

Me: How many parties (excluding parents) are involved in a Child Protective Services Investigation?
Hatzenbuehler: Often, there is a CPS investigator, a detective assigned the case and a Victim Advocate (a civilian that works in our unit). There are often counselors, teachers and doctors that are also associated. In addition, we have a Forensic Child Interviewer that is sometime brought in to interview children.How many parties (excluding parents) are involved in a Child Protective Services Investigation?

Me: What role do you/Seattle Police Department play in a Child Protective Services Investigation?
Hatzenbuehler: My role is to gather the information that will assist the prosecutor in determining if a violation of the Seattle Municipal Code or RCW, i.e. a crime, has been committed. This includes conducting interviews and gathering evidence (records, photos, etc.). The interviews are meant to be objective. An attempt is made to interview all parties and the additional evidence is gathered to support or refute the reported incidents. Investigators work closely with CPS and share information.

Me: What do you think are the contributing factors to the disproportionate rate of CPS cases involving children and families of color?
Hatzenbuehler: I believe it’s the result of the larger issue of racial inequality.

Me: How do you/the Seattle Police Department provide long-term support to decrease the rate of children of color affected by adverse childhood experiences (ACE's)?
Hatzenbuehler: Long-term support is offered through the use of our Victim Advocates. We have one that handles adult cases and one that handles juvenile cases. The Victim Advocates are brought in at the beginning of an investigation and assist the individuals involved in navigating the criminal investigation and anything that occurs as a result of it, such as if it goes to trial. They also provide counseling referrals and a multitude of other resources to victims and their families.  Investigations can take several months or longer, so the relationship is more long-term than not.

Me: Are racial/ethnic, cultural, and religious parenting styles and/or practices taken into account when investigating a CPS case?
Hatzenbuehler: A CPS social worker may be able to address this better. During the course of a criminal investigation,  I often ask any parent I talk to about how they parent, their norms, styles, etc. Many people parent based on the type of parents/experience they had.  Culture and social norms are addressed in an investigation but the law is specific. If an incident rises to the level of a crime, the prosecutor will review all of the facts and respond accordingly.

(Now back to me...)

Let's not let the conversation end here. This is just the start. Building a bridge between our community and the entities that have a negative history with our community is difficult, but it takes having a seat at the table together to start a conversation. A conversation that can lead to enlightenment, understanding, and one day change.

This is just the first article of a series of articles based on Rouge Lioness' offline work (and the work of others) in the community to help not just promote, but to recreate positive social change.

Washington State Department of Social and Health Services: Reports and Information
Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare
Racial Disproportionality in Washington State's Child Welfare System
Children of Color: A Brief Overview (of Santa Clara County, CA's CPS) 
Understanding the Child Welfare System in California