Race Matters- Let’s Consider It

As I argued in my first post, race matters when making decisions in the foster care system. Children of color are overrepresented in the system and have poorer outcomes. I also discussed how this is likely tied to the ideas of the white savior complex and implicit biases. One way that I believe we can combat some of the negative impacts of implicit biases and the white savior complex is to consider race and culture in children’s foster care placements. In this post, I’ll discuss why it’s important for race to be considered in placement decisions, and what is currently being done–and not being done–to consider race. I’ll conclude with how I believe race should be considered and the current limitations of racial considerations.

Who makes the decisions about race and culture?

Parents make all kinds of decisions related to their child’s upbringing; they make decisions about their education, what kind of religious upbringing they may have, what kind of food they eat, whether or not they can have sleepovers, what time curfew will be, etc. Included in these decisions are choices parents make related to what culture the child will be raised in, and how the parents will tackle the issue of race with their child. Many of us may take for granted that parents are allowed to make all of these decisions for their child, because to do so is a legal right. The Supreme Court held in Meyer v. State of Nebraska (1923), that parents have the fundamental right to control the upbringing of their children as they see fit. Continue reading “Race Matters- Let’s Consider It”

The Future of ICWA: Unconstitutional or Under-serving?

In my first post, I discussed the history of the cultural and actual genocide against Native Americans as well as the broad and family-specific reasons that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1976 was enacted. In the second, I talked about the case Brackeen v. Zinke (2018), the federal court case currently in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States, in which the constitutionality of ICWA is in question. I also argued that Brackeen—as well as the controversy surrounding ICWA—is tied to the history of removal of Native American children; the requirements in ICWA federally, statewide, and locally; and the understanding we have of Native American culture specifically and culture generally. As the last two posts have focused on the history and present of ICWA, I will now talk about the future of ICWA and some possible policy and implementation changes we can make in order to make it more accessible, and equitable, to children and families who find themselves subject to its jurisdiction.

First, in order to do that, I will try to answer two remaining questions from my first post:

  1. Why [does ICWA] only [include] federally recognized tribes? §1903(8) clarifies the definition of tribe as only those recognized by the “Secretary” and some Alaskan Native villages.
  2. Should the standards and values of ICWA be extended to all minority children? Should the higher legal standards that ICWA requires and the more active efforts expected of child protective services and social services be mandated for all children in foster care?
Continue reading “The Future of ICWA: Unconstitutional or Under-serving?”

A State-Wide Trauma-Informed Care Approach: Implementation of Stricter Guidelines for Discretion in Child Welfare Cases and a Shift Towards Family Services in the Early Stages

I. Current Landscape

            The good news is that California as a state recognizes the importance of implementing a trauma informed approach to child welfare cases. Assembly Bill 2083 was approved by Governor Brown at the end of 2018. The bill provides a continuum of care provision, which means that foster children will no longer be aged out of the system, and provisions for counties to ensure that foster care placements are actually equipped with training to deal with children who have trauma. The legislation is focused on creating case plans or placements that are tailored to the specific needs of each child, since we know that children entering the system have been through life events that create long-lasting trauma.

            In my view, AB 2083 establishes the threshold for a state-wide approach to child dependency. Assemblyman Ken Cooley, who introduced this legislation, asserts that the bill does the following:

  1. Sets the expectation for coordinated services at the local level for youth who require services from multiple agencies through formalized Memorandums of Understanding.
  2. Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services and Superintendent of Public Instruction to establish a joint inter-agency resolution team at the State level with certain responsibilities, including but not limited to, providing technical assistance to county agencies to establish local MOUs, and link youth to needed services.
  3. Requires the interagency team to review the availability of appropriate placements (from family homes to congregate care) that are trained and/or supported to provide trauma-informed care to foster youth and make recommendations to the Legislature for improvements in this area.
  4. Requires the interagency team to consult with stakeholders, including practitioners, to develop a plan to increase the availability of trauma-informed services to youth in care.

All of these things are great and a step in the right direction, but what if there were state-wide Memoranda of Understanding that each county agreed upon that addressed the needs of families before children are removed and placed in foster care? Why are there not interagency teams established by the Secretary of Health and Human Services to link parents to drug treatment programs, housing opportunities, child care and job training so that families have the tools to create healthy environments for themselves and their children?

Continue reading “A State-Wide Trauma-Informed Care Approach: Implementation of Stricter Guidelines for Discretion in Child Welfare Cases and a Shift Towards Family Services in the Early Stages”

White Saviors are Not Saving Children

While many of us would like to believe we live in a post racial era, where everyone is seen and treated as an equal, unfortunately, that just isn’t so. In many of our systems, even those designed to do good and help others, race matters a great deal. One such system is the child welfare/ foster care system. It’s no secret that children of color are overrepresented in this system. This has been acknowledged for many years. In this series of posts, I aim to address why race matters in this system, how the race and culture of a child should be considered in his/her foster care placement, and the ways in which we can work to make the system better for children and families of color.

Before we dive into talking about racial disparities, implicit biases, and sifting through whether or not the child welfare system is racist and what that really means, there’s something that I think is important to acknowledge and understand: discussing race often makes people uncomfortable, defensive, and sometimes angry. I believe it is critical to establish the lens through which I am viewing and discussing this issue.

Continue reading “White Saviors are Not Saving Children”

Notice, Courts, and Culture: ICWA in the Modern Era

Although the history of discrimination against Native American children and families is apparent to most, the decision to keep ICWA in practice today remains controversial. In October of 2018, a federal judge in Texas struck down ICWA as unconstitutional in Brackeen v. Zinke (2018). The Fifth Circuit has heard oral arguments and will issue a decision later this year, but dissatisfaction with ICWA has been festering for years. The Brackeens—the family who are the plaintiffs in this case—are merely the face of families and political actors that have been dissatisfied with the way ICWA has played out within the foster care system.

The Notice Requirement and ICWA

You may recall from my first long post that when a child is made a dependent of the court, any and all biological parents are told to notify the court as to whether they have Native American heritage. The burden of finding out the extent of that heritage, which tribe the heritage is from, and notifying the tribe(s) that could possibly be involved with the case lies with the court and county counsel. If either or both parents do not know if they have Native American heritage, the court and county counsel must notify all federally recognized tribes.

ICWA’s notice requirements are incredibly strict. These requirements are set in order for the tribe to be able to make a determination of which child may or may not qualify for membership within that tribe; and therefore, the notice must be “complete, timely, and accurate.”

The California Court’s ICWA Notice Information Checklist details the requirements that the law sets out for county counsel and the court in order to comply with federal guidelines. The notice must contain information about the child’s relatives “as far back as great-grandparents,” at minimum, which includes a duty to interview all extended relatives that are available to provide the names of these ancestors to the tribe. The most detailed list of requirements is found in the form that county counsel must fill out to provide notice; the information, at its most complete, would have:

All names known of the Indian child’s biological parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, or Indian custodians, including maiden, married and former names or aliases, as well as their current and former addresses, birthdates, places of birth and death, tribal enrollment numbers, and any other identifying information, if known.

That, of course, is an incredible amount of information, and it may be difficult for even the average person—without any Native American heritage—to provide similar information about their ancestors. But, in the past, cases have been overturned on appeal because of “missing middle names, misspellings,” and “reasonably” available information.

But perhaps the most difficult requirement that is currently in California and federal law is that the “court and child welfare department have an affirmative and continuing duty to seek to obtain th[e information above] throughout the life of the case where they know of or have reason to know that the child is or may be an Indian child.” (emphasis added). This means that the adoptive parents of a child who could have Native American heritage—even if the parents themselves have terminated their parental rights—could still be subject to ICWA law, and tribal jurisdiction could still trump their adoptive rights that could be found at any time in the child’s case. While this is an example of California law (see Cal. Welf. and Inst. Code §224.3), similar laws exist in many states throughout the United States or just comply uniformly with ICWA’s exact wording. (For another specific example, see Colorado’s Title 19, Children’s Code §19-1-126; for rote compliance with ICWA, see New Mexico’s §32A-1-14 (2016).

Brackeen v Zinke (2018) and Current Controversy

But what does notice have to do with Brackeen?

Continue reading “Notice, Courts, and Culture: ICWA in the Modern Era”

Trauma Systems Therapy Training: What Social Services Needs to be Utilizing, But Isn’t

Children in foster care are exposed to many adverse experiences and are heavily impacted by their trauma. As discussed in my previous posts, trauma affects kids, leads to behavioral problems, and can result both in school discipline and in parents failing to understand the source of misbehavior- which results in placement instability. A foster care system that incorporates policy and training meant to deal with the effects of trauma can better support youth and improve their life outcomes.

In an attempt to reduce placement instability and promote the child’s well-being researchers and people involved in foster care have begun to move toward an approach of trauma-informed care. In this post, I will explain why California should use the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AEC) Trauma Systems Therapy for Foster Care curriculum to implement a standardized system of trauma training throughout the child welfare system. I will do this by examining recent actions by the California legislature and demonstrating why using the AEC materials is the best approach we currently have available.


Stage 3 of 4: Barriers That Prevent Schools from Addressing the Needs of Youth with Trauma

My first paper introduced the strong impact that trauma has on kids’ ability to learn in school. I then explored the disheartening educational data surrounding our youth in foster care in my second paper. So, if we know that trauma affects learning, and youth in foster care are exposed to various levels of trauma and are therefore not performing well in traditional public schools, what are the barriers that prevent teachers and other school staff from being able to effectively teach youth with trauma? 

Continue reading “Stage 3 of 4: Barriers That Prevent Schools from Addressing the Needs of Youth with Trauma”