Child welfare investigations disproportionately affect Black families in the United States. The Family Stress Model lends explanatory power to the lived experience of diminished autonomy in parental decision-making among Black parents impacted by CPS.
This case study examines parenting from the view of a Black mother's expressed need for consistency and individualized services. Themes of communication, trust, and internalized oppression are described and discussed in context of child welfare practice and policy.
In the United States, we collectively have endured manifestations of racism in child welfare systems. Child maltreatment prevention and mitigation efforts are often severely unacknowledged and under-resourced in light of such racism by those in power to effect meaningful course correction (e.g., policy-makers, intervention scholars, and service-providing practitioners). Given the persistent disproportionality of Black families represented in child protective services (CPS) in this country and continued racism-related family stressors exacerbated by CPS oversight, it is essential to improve our understanding of how racism plays a role in the experiences of Black families involved in child maltreatment preventive services. Additionally, many families impacted by CPS (we intentionally use the terminology impacted rather than involved based on verbal communication from families as the preferred word choice, indicating they weren't enthusiastically or willingly involved; Merritt, 2021) struggle with economic disadvantage (Berger, 2004; Kang et al., 2019; Marcenko, et al., 2012), the effects of mass incarceration (Foster & Hagan, 2015; Roberts, 2012; Sykes & Pettit, 2014; Western & Wilderman, 2009), and mental health challenges that further increase parental stressors (Venta et al., 2016). These stressors that hinder family functioning can increase both the likelihood of child maltreatment assessments and the actual risk of harm. Further, Black parents-particularly mothers-who are socially impoverished often are isolated and unsupported by those in their communities during stressful periods, which aggravates efforts to mitigate child maltreatment risk (Corse et al., 1990; Polansky, et al., 1985).
The research highlighted herein utilizes an intrinsic case study approach to examine one Black mother's nuanced view of identifying as a racial/ethnic minority while receiving CPS preventive services at a New York City-based child welfare agency. The case vignette we present serves as a framework to understand the need for child welfare practitioners to provide culturally aware, structurally competent, individualized services to Black families instead of using a manualized, one-size-fits-all approach. This case study also explores familial stress; risk to autonomous decision-making amid ongoing oversight; and the need for consistent, healthy relationships with care providers. The account below also presents a complex yet compelling example of internalized racism evidenced in part by this mother's preference for services provided by White people. The overall research query is exploratory and sought to understand ways in which CPS oversight impacts parental behaviors.
The underlying reasons for disproportionality in the child welfare system and the overrepresentation of Black children and families consistently are debated in the extant literature. Scholars interested in this phenomenon often focus on identified risk factors that create a greater likelihood for child maltreatment, such as socioeconomic status, proliferation of single-parent...