Is the Foster Care System Racist?

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The main goal of the foster care system is to help and protect kids… isn’t it? Unfortunately no, and the outcomes are often disastrous. Naomi Schaefer Riley, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, reveals the disturbing truth.

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If children are a society’s most precious resource, then why do we treat the most vulnerable among them—those who are abused and neglected by their parents and placed into foster care—so badly? 

It’s a question that should deeply trouble all Americans. Here’s why.

There are approximately half a million children in foster care in the US.

Those who age out of foster care without finding a permanent adoptive family face a much higher likelihood of homelessness, substance abuse, and even sex trafficking than those who do find a permanent adoptive family. 

To use just one example, one in six of California’s state prison population has spent time in foster care.

Given these grim numbers, the goal of the foster care system should be clear: find the best, most nurturing environment for these children to put their lives back together. 

Sadly, this is not what usually happens.   

When children are removed from their biological families because they are in danger, the first and, in many cases, the only priority of our child welfare system is to keep the family together.   

Even when children have been physically or sexually abused. 

Even if they have been deprived of food or health care. 

Even if their parents are so strung out on drugs they cannot function. 

That’s right: the goal of the foster care system is to reunite children with the same parents who abused or neglected them. 

If you think this is likely to lead to disastrous outcomes, you’d be right.  

Of the dozens of examples I could cite, here are two.  

In New York, Julissia Batties had been taken away from her mother shortly after birth. Little wonder, since the mother had lost custody of her four older children in 2013 over safety concerns. In 2021 over the strong objections of her grandmother, Julissia was returned permanently to her mother. A few months after that, she was dead, beaten to death by an older step-sibling. Julissia was seven-years-old. 

In Los Angeles, the Department of Children and Family Services ignored both the findings of its own caseworker and the orders from Juvenile Court to remove four-year-old Noah Cuatro from his home. Signs of malnutrition and abuse were painfully obvious. But the department’s goal—keep families together—overrode concerns about the boy’s well-being. It cost Noah his life. 

Overall, the family reunification track record is not a good one. 20-40% of kids who are reunited with their families end up suffering maltreatment again. 

The system, however, seems impervious to facts. One New Orleans judge, for example, decided there were too many black children coming to her court, so she simply stopped removing them from their abusive families, despite outcries from local child welfare workers and pediatricians.

Behind this obsession with family reunification lies an even more pernicious reality: the notion that parents and children must be racially matched. In other words, only black parents can raise a black child or Hispanic parents a Hispanic child, or Native American parents a Native American child; and that to believe otherwise is to endorse a new form of colonialism. 

This is not new. It goes back decades. 

In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took “a vehement stand against the placements of black children in white homes for any reason.” The group called transracial adoptions “unnatural,” and argued that such placements were evidence of the continued “chattel status” of African Americans.

This view is now child welfare orthodoxy even though federal law prohibits it. 

The Multiethnic Placement Act—passed in 1994 during the Clinton Administration—bars the consideration of race in the placement of children for foster care or adoption.

Sadly, it is often ignored. 

Put starkly, the system that is supposed to protect children prefers they be in an abusive home of the same race rather than in a safe home of another race.

So, where can children who are in danger go? Perhaps the one bright spot in the world of child welfare has been the innovative programs offered by churches and other faith-based organizations. Indeed, most foster parents credit their faith as one of the reasons they foster. 

But again, instead of encouraging these faith-based efforts, child protective service agencies often do the opposite. In addition to insisting on racial matching, states such as California demand that foster parents support the “gender transitions” of children in their care, a thinly veiled attempt to discourage more traditional parents from becoming involved.  

So here’s our choice. 

We can leave or return badly mistreated minority children to their abusive homes to please racially obsessed adults. 

Or…

We can try to find them homes with foster parents of any race or religion who want to help them live the best life possible. 

If we really care about children, the choice is obvious. 

I’m Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Prager University.