My first group home placement was Tanaan Place Group Home.* All of the residents in there were black girls.
Next was Lum’s House of Science. (I still have nightmares about this place.) All black girls.
Joy & Care Home, which I resided at for over a year, also had nothing but black girls.
My last group home, New Way Care Home, my longest group home placement, saw a bit more diversity: one white girl and one Puerto Rican girl. The rest – over 30 girls by the time I left the placement – were black.
After my first two group homes ended in seven-day notices – which are requests to have a youth moved – within months, I stayed in the last two a combined three years. Residents came and went very quickly, as is the case in most group homes throughout the nation.
But I very rarely saw a face that wasn’t the same color as my own.
I began believing that group homes, considered markedly more restrictive than foster homes and for “harder to place” children, were designated for black children. And with constant messages about our “behavioral issues,” and the stark difference in experiences for those in foster homes, considered somewhat more positive, my adolescent mind concluded that group homes were for bad kids.
So as a child, I believed black kids in group homes, myself included, were bad.
This is just one of the subtle and overt messages I heard when I was in “foster care while black.”
Although foster care is difficult for many, regardless of race and ethnicity, for black kids, the experience is often exacerbated by institutionalized racism, resulting in:
- The over-reliance on restrictive placements.
- The “unadoptable” stigmatization.
- The disproportionality of representation in foster care as a whole.
Then there is the historical lack of diversity in the child welfare profession and leadership, which can exacerbate cultural incompetence. (There has been a tremendous shift in the last two decades, with child-serving organizations becoming more culturally inclusive of client populations. However, it is still an issue for many, including nonprofits.)
In short, foster care seems to be not-so-black-kid-friendly, even though it’s overpopulated by black kids.
I could throw every number in the books into this post to showcase the “bleaker” outcomes black foster children face but something tells me that most people are already aware of this. As providers, we’ve seen explicit or implicit anti-black racism within our work with the foster care community. This shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone working within child welfare (and if it does, it proves my point even more).
However, as a current social work student and provider, I’m often perplexed by how we regard, serve and teach black children in foster care in this time of “heightened awareness.”
How is it that with all the knowledge we have of culturally competent practice, black foster children are still marginalized, academically and socially?
Given the significance of churches in black communities, why aren’t there more and stronger faith-based collaboratives to better support black children and families?
With the increased focus on higher education for foster youth, why aren’t we connecting with historically black colleges and universities, many of which offer substantial support for low-income students through financial help and mentorship? They come with the added bonus of an Afrocentric curriculum that can yield positive impacts on self-esteem while providing a quality education.
Furthermore, who teaches black children about their culture and heritage? As a second-year graduate student, I have noted that one of our slight focuses in children and family services has been on “cultural humility,” which seems to be, in its reduced form, continually acknowledging cultural ignorance and having heightened awareness of the implicit biases that are associated with it.
Is having “cultural humility” enough to bridge gaps in young black children’s perceptions of their history and culture? Are we still relying on the same school system that has consistently based its curriculum in Eurocentrism? Are educators solely tasked with teaching black foster children about their heritage, even though we know how that goes?
Are we training foster parents and group home staff, at the very least, in facilitating topics of race and culture? Is this even a priority in a child’s case?
Being in foster care made me feel as if I didn’t have ties or roots to much of anything. Lacking knowledge of my heritage reiterated that notion, and was damaging to my sense of self.
Could the lack of culturally educational services and providers be another hindrance for black system dependents?
In all, with the harsh impact that we’ve seen foster care have on black children, why are we still not doing any better in serving them?
You want to know how black-kid-unfriendly foster care STILL is? Ask our black foster youth if anyone in their community of foster parents, group home staff, social workers, and other important providers has had the “police conversation” with them.
As prevalent as police brutality amongst black people is, and always has been, it’s a topic that many black foster youth haven’t been allotted the space to process as well as prepare a safety plan for. Considering the volume of law enforcement interaction that system dependent children have via court, crisis intervention, placement removals, etc., shouldn’t it be a priority for providers to have these potentially life-saving discourses with our youth?
The same feelings of fear and anger that many in the black community have felt in response to the recent executions of unarmed black men by the police have had just as much of an impact on black foster youth, some of whom have had adverse experiences with the police. How telling is it of culturally competent and relevant practices that this isn’t currently on our agenda?
As a black child in foster care, I hated my blackness almost as much as I hated being in foster care because both seemed to make my life harder. As a black woman, studying and working within the foster care system, I’m finally beginning to see that my negative feelings about both may have been intertwined the whole time.
And yes, ALL foster youth lives matter; however, it’s imperative that the ‘ALL’ encompasses black youth, too.
*Facility names have been fictionalized.