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2018-08-30 / Voices

Child Protection


A former social worker talks about child protection in a recent TED talk. She describes a home visit where she had to respond to a report of child abuse; where children were found sleeping on a mattress amid rat traps; ashtrays and empty beer cans throughout the home. In the kitchen there is very little food. There is another room where there is a mattress on the floor where the mother sleeps with an infant. Two things happen: children are removed or they stay in the home.

Her argument is that based on race, the family is either pulled apart or the state works with the parent. In this case, a Black single mother in low income housing is more likely to lose her children who will be removed from the home.

This former social worker speaks on the consideration of race in the foster care system. Foster care, in any state is meant to be an immediate shelter for children who are at risk. Her argument is if you live in a poor neighborhood and are from a poor family, you better be a perfect parent.

The type of neighborhood in a city that the parents live in helps social workers determine whether kids are removed. Currently twice as many (28%) Black kids are in the foster care system than there are in the general population (14%). She blames this on bias; attitudes we have about certain groups of people based on race and ethnicity.

In the state of South Dakota in 2013, the percentages of the 1,253 children in foster care system were: 38.4% white, 36.7% American Indian/Alaska Native, 10.7% Hispanic, 10.2% more than one race or ethnicity and 4% Black. There were no Asian or Pacific Islanders.

In South Dakota in 2013 there were 15,679 referrals for child abuse and neglect; from that 2,676 were referred for investigation. There were 984 children who were victims of abuse or neglect which includes physical and sexual abuse; where 5 children died as a result of abuse or neglect.

When the caseworker responds to a report of child abuse and presents to a committee what they found in an unannounced home visit; they remove children often on the subjectivity of names, ethnicity, neighborhood and race. The caseworker talks about what happened which prompted the visit; the family itself, including the parent’s ability to protect the children.

When the family has a history with a department, the workers use that history against the family. The former social worker tells us that the child welfare system is an emotional field, it is difficult to judge a case when you look at a zip code and race; that there are biases against a case coming from a certain racial or ethnic group or zip code.

The former social worker recommends the use of “blind” removal meetings where the report is filed without the use of race and ethnicity or zip codes. In her work using blind removal meetings, she hopes to convince the public to transform child welfare where decisions are driven by ethics and safety. Poverty should not be seen as a failure; where partnering with parents is important.

In 2013,I watched three of my great nieces and nephews enter the foster care system when a relative died. In South Dakota about 10,112 grandparents have primary responsibility for their grandchildren and when a grandparent dies, the children are at risk.

In 2014, family members worked with the tribe to place them in a safe home with a relative. At issue are many factors, but in our Lakota culture, as long as there is a strong parent figure in the child’s life, they have a chance. In our Lakota culture, any relative or adopted relative can step up to parent if a mother or father cannot adequately protect the child; that is our safety net, our foster care system, thousands of years old that we must rely on in order to keep our children safe. f tt

Delphine Red Shirt can be reached through email

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