By Danielle Hempel, MSSW Intern at Kentucky Youth Advocates

Children in the foster care system are among our most vulnerable youth due to the trauma many have experienced and the potential for that trauma to be exacerbated by the stressors of foster care. Therefore, it is particularly troubling that racial disparities exist within the foster care system.

Numerous studies have found that once involved in the child welfare system, Black children are much more likely to be removed from their homes than their White peers. The disproportionate representation of children of color in the foster care system is driven by a number of factors, including socioeconomic status and family structure, as well as bias and structural inequities. Poverty in and of itself does not account for the racial disparities in foster care.

Currently, Black youth make up 18 percent of Kentucky youth in foster care, though they constitute only 9 percent of the youth population. Within Kentucky’s foster care system:

  • Black children are more likely to be placed in institutional placements (such as group homes or residential treatment facilities) than their White peers. This is troubling because these group settings often exacerbate the trauma youth experience from being separated from their parents.
  • Black children are also less likely than their White counterparts to be placed with a relative (kin) or close family friend (fictive kin) for foster care, though research shows kinship care helps minimize the trauma of removal, maintain vital connections, and often keeps sibling groups together.

It is important to highlight and acknowledge the racial disparities that exist in foster care, but when foster care is discussed, there is often a singular narrative that emerges, erasing the unique experiences, needs, and issues that Black youth in care often face.

Black youth in foster care are more likely to experience negative outcomes, such as:

  • more likely to age out of the foster care system, meaning they leave without a connection to a trusted adult they can rely on for stability;
  • less likely to graduate from high school or earn a GED;
  • more likely to be suspended or expelled from school;
  • significantly less likely to be employed; and
  • more likely to be involved in the juvenile or criminal justice system.

The needs and experiences of Black youth in the foster care system must be considered and integrated into policies, practices, and programs. The work of foster care agencies and advocacy groups must truly become intersectional, highlighting race as an essential component and promoting cultural humility by those working with youth and families.

You can learn more about the experiences of Black youth in foster care through these resources:

We encourage everyone working with or on behalf of foster youth to think about how Kentucky can address the persistent racial disparities that exist. This could include actions such as revisiting agency recruiting practices, encouraging people of color to become foster parents, reviewing internal policies that create and perpetuate disparities, and creating additional educational opportunities relating to cultural humility and diversity for staff.

This post is part of the blog series, Intern Insights