The child welfare system is a microcosm of white dominant culture within America. It reflects a history of separating Black children from their families guised as protective intervention, which has evolved into disparate outcomes and a disproportionate number of Black children in foster care (Maguire-Jack et al., 2020). This analysis illustrates chronic mishandling of Black families, the impact of double-consciousness on Black child welfare practitioners, and opportunities to infuse anti-racist policies within child welfare.
The child welfare system (CWS), like a bird cage, is a system of wires in the form of policies, practices, and organizational structures, rooted in racial inequalities and white supremacy. White supremacy culture is defined as the ideology that white people's thoughts, beliefs, and actions are superior to other groups, in particular, Black people (Dismantling Racism, 2021). Alexander (2020) discussed Young's (2000) metaphor, "Any given wire of the cage may or may not be specifically developed for the purpose of trapping the bird, yet it still operates together with other wires to restrict its freedom" (p. 228).
If one thinks about racism by examining only one wire of the cage, or one form of disadvantage, it is difficult to understand how and why the bird is trapped. Only a large number of wires arranged in a specific way, and connected with one another, serve to enclose the bird and to ensure it cannot escape. (Alexander, 2020, p. 228)
The CWS has trapped Black families and placed Black children in figurative (i.e., foster care) and literal confinement (i.e., congregate care). The CWS also employs a significant number of Black frontline case managers and supervisors, who are charged with enforcing the CWS's racist structures and policies. The complicity of Black practitioners in this context is an example of cultural imperialism, "the universalization of a dominant group's experience and culture, and its establishment as the norm" (Young, 1990, p. 55). While the dominant culture establishes norms and practices, the CWS, over time, shifted from protecting predominantly white children to separating Black children from their families and communities.
According to Puzzanchera and Taylor (2020), in 2018 the racial disproportionality index (RDI) for Black children in foster care represents 1.66; although a decrease from 2.09 in 2010, it continues to reflect that Black children are overrepresented in foster care 1.6 times their rate in the general population. Pennsylvania's CWS represents a striking example of disproportionality. Black children represent 13% of the population; however, they represent 41.6% of the foster care population (Peprah, 2021). Furthermore, Black children who stay in care longer are placed in more restrictive environments (Miller, et al., 2014), age out of care without achieving family permanence, and are more likely to be placed on psychotropic medications (Franklin, 2014).
Hill (2004) argued that overrepresentation of Black children in the CWS was attributed to multiple risk factors to include unemployment, family dynamics and poverty. The focus on poverty as a primary cause dismisses racism as a root cause and centers the issue and the resolution on Black families. Currently, there...