Michael Piraino, CEO, National CASA Association
“A historic number…record increase…startling phenomenon.”
These were some of the words that accompanied recent news articles about increases in the number of Hispanic children in foster care in the United States. The increases are real. Data from the Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Center show that the number of Hispanic/Latino children in foster care did in fact grow between 2000 and 2011. Hispanic youth made up 21% of the foster care population in 2011, compared with only 14% in 2000.
And yet, while the number of Hispanic foster children increased, the proportion of Hispanic children who came into care in 2011 decreased by 25%. Two factors account for the difference in these numbers:
1. The truly historic rise in the overall Hispanic population of the United States. The 6% increase in the Hispanic foster youth population was much lower than the 40% increase in the overall Hispanic child population, and
2. An equally dramatic drop in the presence of other groups of children in foster care. African American children, for example, saw the largest decrease (by nearly 100,000 over those years), followed by white children (with a decrease of nearly 30,000).
The most significant part of this story comes without the startling language. A 2007 study published by the Urban Institute found that things are different for different generations of Hispanic children. While children of immigrants were underrepresented in foster care, third generation children were over-represented.
A deeper dive is required to understand what is going on. The Urban Institute study did not examine the reasons for the over-representation, but focused instead on differences in placement settings for these youth. There is reason to be concerned about these placements, which are less likely to be with relatives and more likely to be in group settings. The authors speculated that immigration issues such as detention and deportation of parents could affect the availability of placement settings for Hispanic youth.
It appears that many immigrant children arrived in this country with some significant protective factors that have contributed to their under-representation in foster care. This tentatively upbeat conclusion rests on more recent research, reported in January of this year.
The research is based entirely on California data. Here is the key sentence: “Upon controlling for socioeconomic and health indicators, and in keeping with what was observed for Black/White disparity, risk differences reversed for Latino children of U.S.-born mothers (i.e., low socioeconomic status Latino children were less likely to be referred, substantiated, or enter foster care than low socioeconomic status white children) and became even more extreme for children of foreign-born mothers.”
In other words, something has insulated many Hispanic youth from CPS involvement. At least according to the California data, they seem to have been less likely to be in foster care than similarly situated white children, and the effect is stronger the closer the youth are to the time of immigration. The authors speculate that the protective factors could have cultural roots and include family ties, religiosity, social support, social networks and beneficial health behavior.
As the authors point out, this research does not mean that bias does not operate in child welfare systems. But this much does seem clear: to protect the best interests of foster youth, judges, lawyers, advocates, caseworkers and service providers must have a very deep understanding of how bias inter-relates with poverty and culture. And most of all, an equally deep respect for the protective factors that exist within any culture.
- Immigration reform that keeps Hispanic families together, reducing the need for placement in foster care, especially in non-family settings
- Child welfare training that goes beyond anti-bias training and incorporates more thorough understanding of the protective factors that operate in all cultures
- More research on the placement of Hispanic youth to see if the California conclusions apply more generally
- Evidence-based approaches to linking protective factors to various cultural traditions
- More flexible options for placement of Hispanic youth in family settings
This article also appears in the Huffington Post.
Michael Piraino, CEO, National CASA Association
Here we are, more than halfway through National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the news isn’t exactly full of information on the topic. Yet every day in this country, 1,900 children become victims of abuse or neglect, and four of them will die. Every day. In fact, the United States has the highest rate of deaths by child abuse of any industrialized nation.
How do we get the word out about these staggering statistics? And more important, what are we going to do to stop child abuse and neglect in its tracks? Systems are set up to intervene after abuse is reported, but how do we prevent the abuse in the first place? The answer is that with everyone’s help, we can do something.
We need to start by treating child abuse and neglect like the preventable public health menace that it is. We can demand that politicians support programs aimed at reducing domestic violence and poverty. We can tell them we want funding for counseling, childcare and parenting training for struggling families. We can reach out to caregivers we know who are overwhelmed. We can advocate for child victims through organizations such as National CASA, or become foster or adoptive parents ourselves. And we can report suspected abuse and neglect with a confidential call to 866-363-4276.
The costs of allowing child abuse and neglect to continue in America are simply too high. In fact, one study indicates that the price tag on maltreatment over just one child’s lifetime in health care, social services and productivity losses is huge — $210,012 for non-fatal cases and $1,272,900 for fatal situations. Those numbers are comparable to the cost of raising a child to adulthood in a middle-class family.
The human cost is just as severe, including poorer physical and mental health — an impact that can last throughout the child’s life.
We should do all we can to prevent child abuse and support its victims. Every child, regardless of traumatic experiences, has the potential to grow up to be a happy, productive and responsible adult. Our CASA programs see statistics translated to success stories every day. Just last week, I was in the audience when Suamhirs Rivera, a young man who credits a CASA volunteer with turning his life around received an Immigrant Youth Achievement Award for his foster care advocacy work.
With your help, we can create more success stories like this one. The good you can do for a child in your community will last a lifetime — yours and the child’s.
Thank you to guest blogger Suamhirs Rivera for sharing his story with us.
- Suamhirs (in blue) at 2012 National CASA Annual Conference
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. But I was born in Honduras, and no one was there to prevent what I endured at the hands of my father.
He was a doctor with a good job. He also was often drunk and abusive. By the time I was 9, he had left 57 scars on my body. He came home drunk one night and began beating my mother. I jumped in to defend her, and he attacked me too.
After that he was gone. But as the oldest in the family, I had to work. By age 16, I had come to America to support my family. I went to live with my godmother, but she began selling me to whoever paid the most. It would be six months until the police rescued me.
I went into foster care at 16 and was promised that my life would be better in every way. But it wasn’t. In two years, I lived in 17 different foster and group homes. And I was put on more than a dozen medications because they were afraid I would abuse other children. Everything became just another trauma.
Finally I met someone who would show me the America I wanted to see: my CASA volunteer, Marcos. He introduced me to a world that was full of joy, free of pain, free of failure. He refined my English and helped me with my education. He also helped me get my green card before I turned 18, so I wouldn’t be deported. Marcos wasn’t just a mentor — he reformed my life and turned it around 180 degrees.
Unfortunately, funding is being cut for programs like CASA. I know that I would not be here today without CASA’s help. I work full time, and I’m a part-time student at UC San Diego, with a double major in political science and international studies.
I also teach people how to talk with abused kids in foster care. People need to understand childhood trauma so they can avoid stigmatizing, discriminating against and labeling abused kids. And maybe these kids will learn — like I did — that human beings have the ability to stand up, clean themselves off and become productive members of society. All we need is people who care, who understand and who can help.
People like CASA volunteers and donors. People like you.
Please help CASA for Children reach every child who needs one. Learn more about becoming a CASA volunteer.
Sequestration is a scary word. Outside of Washington, DC, it has the sense of seizing property or isolating juries. But the DC definition—a general cut in funding—carries a real likelihood of danger. Danger to children.
Many programs that keep children safe, educated and healthy are supported at least in part through federal discretionary spending. An eight percent reduction in those funds may not sound like an overwhelming amount. But it comes on top of already large cutbacks for children. In recent years, 31 federal programs for children have
been entirely eliminated, and another 71 saw their funding reduced, affecting
everything from child safety to health and education.
It’s not as though these programs aren’t sorely needed. One of the programs, cut back by nearly 77%, was for violence prevention in schools. It’s too bad it takes an awful incident in an elementary school for people to realize how important this funding is. Do children have to die before we think about investing in their safety?
Recent funding cutbacks have already threatened to hamstring core commitments our nation made to children. Among the most vulnerable are children who cannot live safely at home due to abuse and neglect. They are under the care of state child welfare systems—which are already reeling from previous federal and state cutbacks. Yet funding for the four child abuse programs in the Victims of Child Abuse Act were targeted for elimination in the last two Administration budgets. Congress did step in and preserve funding, though at hugely reduced levels. These levels may be reduced even further through sequestration this Friday.
These federal funding trends would be of less concern if private charitable giving was helping to fill in at least part of the need. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Charitable giving for human service organizations declined last year. Over the last five years, the number of new donors giving to human services has gone down.
It is downright expensive not to make investments in good programs that help children. For example, a foster youth who is connected to a trusted advocate and mentor is more likely to carry with her a varied set of protective factors. Research shows that this will lead to more positive outcomes. And the consequence of not doing right by a foster youth? Tens of thousands age out of that system every year and are at high risk for homelessness, unemployment and criminal behavior.
The median cost of a single incarceration was $31,000 in 2010. We would all save money, and feel safer, if we invested that money in young people rather than wasting it on prison cells.
Politicians are fond of referring to every parent’s dream of a better life for their children. If we believe in our children’s safety and well-being, then budget decisions need to be based on a real understanding of the connection between funding and those dreams for our children.
Guest blogger Judge Ernestine S. Gray is the chief judge of the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court and a former president of the National CASA Association Board of Trustees.
Lately we are hearing a lot about the power—and necessity—of collective action. President Obama said it loud and clear in his January inaugural speech.
When I heard the president say that “No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores…” I knew exactly what he meant.
As a juvenile court judge and as a long-standing supporter of the CASA cause, no one needs to convince me that positive outcomes are made possible by collective action. Every day I make decisions that change the lives of the children and families seated before me. I tell mothers that their love for their children is not equaled by their ability to care for them; I congratulate fathers for taking the first steps necessary to regain custody of their children. I make decisions and recommendations with the stroke of a pen or the pounding of a gavel that forever change people’s lives, hopefully for the better.
Making such life-changing decisions weighs heavily on every juvenile court judge’s heart. The only reason I can feel confident that I am making the best decision I can for the children looking up at me is because a community of compassionate adults—including CASA volunteers empowered by my court—has provided the critical information I need.
The saying may be well worn but I know it to be true: It takes a village to raise a child. In the case of a juvenile court judge, the village includes CASA volunteers and others to ensure that we do the right thing by the children whose care and whose futures have been placed in the hands of our public child welfare systems. In the courtroom, the juvenile court judges are the gatekeepers of that system. But as I hear President Obama say, no one succeeds alone. Only by working together do we stand a real chance at fulfilling society’s obligations to all of its children.