Fostering Disparity


On any given day in the United States, more than 400,000 children are living in foster care. Is the system that touches the lives of so many families more likely to remove children of certain races from their homes?

Alexander Roehrkasse examined racial trends in national foster care rates using data from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. As shown in the graph above, Native American and Black children are placed in foster care at significantly higher rates than White, Asian, and Hispanic children.

While the overrepresentation of Black children has steadily declined since 2000, they remain more likely to be placed in foster care than all groups other than Native American children, whose situation has worsened in the past decade. In 2018, American Indian/Alaska Native children were almost three times more likely to be placed with a foster family than other children.

These trends are particularly troubling as the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) this term. The law establishes higher standards for removing Native American children from their families. Under ICWA, children cannot be removed without the testimony of an expert witness.

Foster care can be vital for kids facing severe neglect, but it can also have detrimental impacts in cases where social workers might reasonably disagree about whether to remove a child from the home. When state intervention is overly aggressive and misdirected, placing a child in foster care can cause lifelong health consequences, including a higher risk of developmental delays and mental illness.

The choice of which children to remove from their homes may be influenced by racism in child removal practices and increased surveillance in Native American and Black communities. Roehrkasse suggests that creating equitable outcomes for children requires the foster care system to examine and monitor its policies, trainings, and child removal practices.

Databyte via Alexander Roehrkasse. Long-Term Trends and Ethnoracial Inequality in U.S. Foster Care: A Research Note. Demography, 2021.