Disparity is defined as the unequal outcomes of one group as compared to the outcomes of another group (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2016). It is important to consider how the outcomes of minority youth with foster care backgrounds — particularly black youth — compared to the outcomes of other children with foster care backgrounds since black children are so overrepresented in foster care.
Black communities are disproportionately impacted by this overrepresentation throughout the country, regardless of Black representation within the general public. For instance, locales with large Black populations, like our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. where 57% of all children are Black, yield increasingly more disproportionate rates whereas Black children account for over 90% of all children in D.C.’s child welfare system. Conversely, in a state like Utah, where only 1% of children are Black, those children remain overrepresented in child welfare at 4% (US Census Bureau, 2016; AFCARS, 2017). Therefore, the outcomes of foster care as it remains today create a crippling effect that is felt throughout the African-American community and is continually experienced over generations without proper and adequate intervention.
The Impact of Aging-Out of Foster Care
Interestingly enough, the foster care experience, irrespective of race and ethnicity, creates disparate, or unequal outcomes between children and youth who experience foster care and those who are able to avoid exposure to it throughout their childhood and adolescence. Not only does the experience of foster care prove to be problematic, but more troubling are the outcomes for those youth who emancipate from foster care, or “age-out” of the system. When youth reach the elected age of majority, or “age-out” of foster care, they are no longer supervised by Child Protective Services (CPS), nor are they eligible to receive funds and benefits on its behalf. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 mandates that CPS collaborate with youth to develop transitional plans exploring their access to vital resources including housing, education, employment, life skills, and health (including mental health) services. The transition plans are intended to prepare youth for life without the formal support of CPS, which previously served as their legal guardian.
Nationally, 10% of youth under the custody of CPS age-out of foster care annually (AFCARS, 2017). In Arizona, that percentage translates to an average of 23,000 young adults who are released to the community each year without the benefit of an informal support system to guide their behavior and meet their needs. This lack of support and resources places youth and young adults in a perilous state of survival. Conventional methods of attainment and advancement often are abandoned for delinquent, illegal and criminal means. This lifestyle thrusts youth into constant contact with law enforcement. Without a supportive advocacy network, the youth or young adult is deposited in the criminal justice system by way of arrest.
The systematic transition of abused and neglected children to adult correctional facilities via foster care is aptly known as “The Foster Care to Prison Pipeline”, and its effects become more apparent when comparing the incarceration rates of young adults. When a group of 26-year old males and females who had no experience with child welfare during their childhood and adolescence were asked if they had experienced incarceration at any point in their lives, less than 6% of females, and less than a quarter of males responded affirmatively, having spent at least one night in jail or prison. When the same question was posed to a group of 26-year old males and females who not only had experience with child welfare but aged-out of foster care, over 40% of females, and nearly three-quarters of males reported having had spent at least one night in jail or prison (Cutler, et al., 2011).
High costs are associated with an individual’s criminality, and that cost is compounded when that individual becomes incarcerated for any period of time. Cutler Consulting (2009) estimated the criminal justice costs for a criminal career over a lifetime (beginning at age 14) of one cohort to be just under $5 billion. This estimate is based upon the 2,400 male youth expected to age out of foster care to prolonged involvement with the criminal justice system each year, and includes the costs associated with victimization, police, courts, prisons, and the productivity lost by the incarcerated individuals (Cutler, 2009).
Black communities are particularly vulnerable to the effects and impacts of these detrimental outcomes due to the overrepresentation of Black children in foster care. By joining the Harvest of Hope Network, your church will be eradicating this disproportionality and disparity issue by removing children from foster care and creating sanctuaries of forever families.
Intervention is required to disrupt these negative cycles. By joining the Harvest of Hope network, your church will be eradicating this disproportionality and disparity issue by removing children from foster care and creating sanctuaries of forever families. Transformation occurs within the contexts of families and communities with the constant implementation of love, nurturing, patience, and support.
AFCARS – Some states have extended care through the ages of 19, 20, or 21.