School of Social Work Hosts Conference on Disproportionality in Child Welfare

November 21, 2007 @ 5:00 am

For Immediate Release

November 21, 2007

New York, NY – What are the effects of racial disproportionality on the child welfare system?  Dr. Robert Hill, Senior Researcher at Westat and noted author on disproportionality, addressed this question at a conference held at the Columbia University of School of Social Work (CUSSW) on November 16th. 

According to Dr. Hill, children of color in foster care are either overrepresented or underrepresented at the national level based upon U.S. Census data. A report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office suggests that the federal government can assist states and counties in reducing racial disproportionality by allocating more funds for family preservation, prevention and reunification. In addition, cultural competence training for workers and mandated reporters and the use of kin as resources should be supported.

The conference, coordinated by the Family and Children Services Advisory Committee to CUSSW, examined the multiple variables underlying racial disproportionality in child welfare. Approximately 37 % of the 500,000 children in foster care in the country are African American, yet they represent only about 15% of the child population. Race has been identified as one of the primary determinants in decision making in the child welfare system, including in foster care.
 “What is most disturbing is that children who grow up in foster care are at high risk of school failure, homelessness, substance abuse, and/or mental health problems,” says Brenda McGowan, Ruth Harris Ottman Professor of Family & Child Welfare at CUSSW and co-Chair of the conference.

“The conference aimed to encourage participants to examine the societal and organizational factors, within the context of their own practice, that contribute to disproportionality in child welfare,” adds Janet Abbott, Associate Director of Practicum Learning at CUUSW and co-Chair of the conference. “There is enormous work to be done to change the paradigms used in the child welfare system.”

Guest speakers at the conference included Gladys Carrion, Commissioner, New York State Office of Children and Families; John Mattingly, Commissioner, New York City Administration for Children; and David Billings, People’s Institute. Workshops were conducted by CUSSW faculty experts as well as speakers from the Ackerman Institute, Center for Family Life, Changing the World One Child at a Time, the Coalition of Asian American Families, the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, and the Jewish Board of Family and Children Services.

For more information, please contact Jeannie Hii at 212-851-2327 or