This qualitative explanatory study examines findings from an RCT offering intensive case management for families who are housing-unstable and have children in foster care. Service providers offered feedback on why children of Black caregivers in the treatment group were significantly more likely to reunify. The 20 interviews identified addressing structural racism, reframing expectations, connection and relationship, and advocacy as key explanations. Findings are framed in terms of antiracist practice.
Racial disparities in the child welfare system are well documented, but very little progress has been made to address the issue (Dettlaff et al., 2020; Hill, 2004). In the United States, Black children are over-represented in foster care, and once in foster care, tend to stay longer and are less likely to either reunify or achieve other permanency options (Child Welfare Information Gateway [CWIG], 2016; Gourdine, 2019; Harris, 2014). Black families are also overrepresented in homelessness (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD], 2020b, HUD, 2020c), so families experiencing both housing instability and involvement in child welfare tend to be involved in multiple systems.
The Intersection of Housing Instability and Child Welfare
Housing instability has been identified as a precipitating factor for child welfare involvement (Fowler et al., 2020). National representative prevalence estimates indicate that one in six families under child maltreatment investigation are at risk of having their children placed in foster care due to housing instability (Fowler et al., 2013). Other studies show similar findings, with families who are housing-unstable having higher odds of foster care placement compared to families who are stably housed (Park et al., 2004). Once placed in foster care, children from families who are housing-unstable tend to stay longer in foster care and are less likely to achieve family reunification (Dworsky, 2014). While several major housing interventions have been implemented to keep these families together and promote reunification, including the Family Unification Program, Family Options Study, and Partnerships to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of Supportive Housing for Families in the Child Welfare System, findings have not supported their substantially affecting family reunification rates (Pergamit et al., 2017; Rog et al., 2017; Shinn et al., 2017).
Overrepresentation of Black Children in Child Welfare
Black children's overrepresentation in the child welfare system has been attributed to institutionalized racism (Dettlaff et al., 2020; Hill, 2004). Institutional and cultural racism are key barriers to addressing disparate treatment (disparities) and disproportionate representation (disproportionality) of children of color in the child welfare system (Hill, 2007; Morton et al., 2011; Roberts, 2008). According to the racial disproportionality index, Black children in foster care are represented at 1.7 times their rate in the general population (Puzzanchera & Taylor, 2021). While Black children account for 15% of the total child population, they represent 25% of children in foster care (Puzzanchera & Taylor, 2021). Black children also tend to stay longer in foster care and are nearly four times less likely to achieve reunification with their families or other permanency than White children (Harris, 2014; Hill, 2006; Roberts, 2002).
What accounts for this disproportionality? Early...