The start of February marks the beginning of Black History Month, a time to honor and recognize the accomplishments and history of the African American/Black community. As we continue into this month and consider history, we must ask ourselves how all of us can contribute to racial equality, and work to address disproportionalities and disparities that negatively impact Black communities and ultimately our combined community.
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteers advocate to ensure the best interests and wellbeing for a child or sibling group once they enter foster care. Each volunteer is specially appointed by a judge to advocate for a child, helping them during their time in foster care by ensuring they are kept safe and their unique needs are met. CASA in the Heart of Texas is one of the local CASA programs in Texas that recruits, screens and trains these volunteers.
CASA volunteers advocate within the Texas foster care system, and we recognize that the system itself reflects inequities in our society. Two current problems within the Texas foster care system are racial disproportionality and disparity. Disproportionality means a particular race or cultural group is over-represented in a system, and disparity refers to the differences in outcomes and conditions for some groups of people compared to other groups because of unequal treatment or services.
While Black children account for around 12% of the Texas child population, they make up 23% of the Texas foster care population—almost double their population makeup. In 2018, Black children were 1.7 times more likely to be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) than Anglo children and were 1.9 times more likely to be removed. After a removal has occurred, disparities within the system begin to emerge. After removal, a Black child is less likely to reunify with their family. If reunification has been ruled out and a Black child is available for adoption, they are less likely to be adopted within 12 months.
“There is a clear difference with how many kids are entering the system when you look at the numbers by racial group, and it is not because there is more abuse in one community than in another,” said Michelle Wells, Executive Director of CASA in the Heart of Texas. “If we want to improve outcomes and reduce unnecessary removals of children from their homes, we need to do everything we can to address the issue—not just as CASA volunteers, but as neighbors and community members.”
CASA in the Heart of Texas provides training covering disproportionality in order to equip CASA volunteers with the knowledge to spot and combat occurrences and patterns that contribute to inequity. They work to promote diversity and inclusiveness in their volunteer recruitment so the children they serve have a volunteer who understands them completely—not just emotionally, but culturally. They actively seek more volunteers from communities of color who will reflect the demographics of the populations they serve.
The state of Texas, CASA, and other child welfare stakeholders must come together and work diligently to re-correct our foster care system and make it work fairly for all.
“We are committed to growing and advancing as an organization,” said Wells. “Our volunteers continue to receive training on disproportionality and cultural competency, and our organization is always looking for ways to improve how we serve the most vulnerable children in our community.”
We do not limit celebrations of Black history to February or limit our concern and action about issues like disproportionality and disparity to one month. Black History is an essential part of American history and issues facing the black community are issues facing us, and our neighbors, friends and family every day.
For more information, visit www.CASAbrownwood.org. or call the CASA office at 325-643-2557. The next CASA 101: Information Session for anyone interested in becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate is 6:00 PM, February 4, 2020 at 901 Avenue B (Community Connections of Central Texas Bldg.), in Brownwood.