KU lands grant to empower underserved communities to ID, address racial disparities in child welfare system

LAWRENCE — Despite growing national attention on racial inequities in the child welfare system, Kansas has seen the disproportionality experienced by Black and Indigenous children increase during the last five years in the foster care system.

A new partnership led by the University of Kansas will empower members of these underserved communities to identify and address the problems of racial bias and inequity in the system as shown by disproportionality index, the ratio of percent in foster care versus percent in child population.

The Children’s Bureau; the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families; and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant to fund Kansas Bravely Rising and Activating Voices for Equity, or Kansas BRAVE. The initiative will pair researchers from KU’s School of Social Welfare with agencies of the child welfare system from across the state, community advocacy organizations and people with lived expertise to develop solutions and opportunities.

Pegah Naemi Jiminez

“Why that’s important, to me, is it’s really working with the community. There will be a big emphasis on including the youth voices in developing the solutions to what they have seen and the resulting inequities they’ve experienced in the child welfare system,” said Pegah Naemi Jimenez, research associate in the social welfare school and principal investigator on the grant.

Naemi Jimenez and co-principal investigator Becci Akin, professor of social welfare, will form a partnership with three subrecipients: The Racial Equity Collaborative Inc., Kansas Family Advisory Network and Culture Creations Inc.

“We see our partners as bringing youth and family voices to the table but also keeping accountable those who advance the responses and solutions to these issues,” Naemi Jimenez said of the other recipients. “I see my role as bringing people together to build advisory groups. For example, adults and providers, but also youth, because their experiences can guide what needs to happen. They’ll have the best ideas and solutions.”

Data on racial inequities in child welfare show that the inequities exist along the entire continuum of services.

Becci Akin

“For example, Black and Indigenous children are more likely to be investigated and removed from their homes. Once in foster care, they are less likely to be placed with a relative, have continuity and stability in their foster care placements, and return home to their own families and communities,” Akin said.

The project will also be largely guided by the Strengths Perspective, an approach pioneered by KU's social welfare school that focuses on what an individual or entity does well and uses it as a starting point to address issues, instead of focusing first on a problem or deficit. Through Kansas BRAVE, that approach will put community members who have experienced racial disparities in the system at the forefront of discussions to co-create and co-lead solutions.

The Kansas BRAVE initiative will undertake three strategies to address the system’s disparities.

  • Four Questions is a community-based approach in which judges, caseworkers, law enforcement and others ask questions in cases in which a child is facing removal from the home. Those questions, addressing issues of safety, family connections and home permanence, have proven effective at reducing removal rates by as much as half in other states. The project will review the approach for use in Kansas.
  • The second is community forums, which will bring together people who touch the child welfare system in some way, including judges, caseworkers, teachers, medical professionals, police and others who call Child Protective Services. The initiative will offer them tools and interventions to work with families in less harmful ways when dealing with situations that can result in a child’s removal from the home.
  • Finally, the Brave Space Framework will be offered to agency and community organizations to engage in an anti-racist learning journey to help them assess their operations, identify their goals or changes they’d like to make and use that shared purpose to improve their work in a way that is more than a onetime workshop on diversity.

While Black and Brown families are a small percentage of the population, Naemi Jimenez said they can have strength in numbers when collaborating with the partners in Kansas BRAVE.

“I think this is the time to build these collaborations between families, youths and people who work in the child welfare system to address these issues together,” Naemi Jimenez said. “We will do this work with people who have been marginalized and who are the experts on what needs to happen to do better.”

Wed, 12/06/2023


Mike Krings

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