DCS and Experts Try to Address ‘Extreme’ Racial Disparities

PHOENIX — Data shows the Arizona Department of Child Safety disproportionately investigates and removes black children from their homes, compared to white and Hispanic children.

ABC15 first highlighted the “extreme” disparities in February and shared the Ranger family’s “nightmare” experience.

“I feel like we were stereotyped, right off the bat,” said Kevin Ranger, who nearly had his daughter removed by the state.

The Ranger’s story is one of many in Arizona that African American advocates and families bring up when discussing the need for systemic change.

“We estimate that 63% of black children, between birth and 18, will be investigated [by DCS] in Maricope [County]”said Dr. Frank Edwards, assistant professor at Rutgers University.

Edwards was one of the authors of the National Academy of Sciences study that looked at CPS data from the 20 most populous U.S. counties from 2014 to 2018.

Researchers found that Maricopa County leads the nation in foster care and termination of parental rights for African Americans.

The Higher Education authors said it was “relatively extreme” the rate at which black children in Maricopa County were separated from their parents over the four-year period.

Arizona DCS Director Mike Faust acknowledges that there are real issues and that his agency needs to better respond to glaring racial discrepancies.

“Personally, I spend 15 to 20 percent of my time, precisely, on that,” director Faust said. “We are fully aware of this. [data]and that’s why we’re engaged in this conversation.”

But director Faust also tries to deflect blame for the disparities.

“The organization was in a really bad place in 2015,” Faust said. “So to see the 25% reduction that we’ve seen in foster care, it’s positively benefited African American kids, as well as white and Hispanic kids.”

Faust is also quick to point out that DCS does not monitor calls to the hotline or which families are flagged.

He said the agency is working to better understand why black families are reported to the agency at a rate 3.5 times higher than children of other races.

“Although African-American children are reported [to DCS] at a higher rate, entry into [foster] the care, relative to this reporting, is commensurate with that of white children,” Faust said.

“It’s absolutely correct that the child welfare system does not control the front door, but it does control decisions about foster care and whether investigations are warranted,” said Dr. Edwards.

The most recent data shows that approximately one in 34 Black children in our state ends up in foster care at some point.

“In a state where we’re data-driven, that data doesn’t seem to drive action,” said Matthew Stewart.

Stewart spent 10 years working for the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

In 2020, he left the organization and now advocates for many black families dealing with his former employer. He thinks the agency can do more to right the wrongs of the past few years.

“I want every African-American case opened in the state of Arizona, where children have been removed, to be reviewed,” Stewart said.

Such a long and in-depth review is unlikely to occur, but Stewart said he meets with Director Faust regularly to talk about cases the community has flagged for his help.

Meanwhile, director Faust said his agency was reviewing internal processes and procedures to see if they were contributing to the disparities.

“We plan to standardize our statewide mandated journalism training … We are working on cultural humility and cultural empathy training for our workforce,” Faust said. We are working on specific interventions to engage with the community. So that’s part of our strategic goals.”

Professor Edwards, however, says the disparities are going to take a lot more than just training to address them adequately.

It also notes that the vast majority of child protection investigations, 91% of those in Arizona in 2019, relate to allegations of “negligence or otherwise” and not “abuse.”

Edwards says much of the so-called neglect is linked to poverty.

“Child welfare agencies are ill-equipped to deal with the broad issues of child poverty,” Edwards said. “That’s not what they’re here for – they’re here to deal with extreme cases of child abuse.”

Edwards said the state needs to look at child care options and resources for low-income families, food stamp and welfare programs, access to affordable housing and a litany of others. services that have an impact on the well-being of children.

“We need to think about it in a broad systemic way, rather than as a problem that an agency can deal with.”

“What would you say to the governor, why does it matter?” asked ABC15.

“Are we comfortable with three-fifths of black children in a state or county experiencing a relatively extreme event that is an investigation by the child welfare system? asked Edwards, rhetorically.

“I think the governor should seriously look at the entire network of services and programs available for children and families in Maricopa. [County] and beyond, and ask yourself if they are adequate for the real needs that families face. »

Matthew Stewart has another question for the Governor and Heads of State.

“Why aren’t we all angry that black children are being pulled from their homes at a much higher rate?”

If you have a story involving DCS or another state agency, you can email Zach at [email protected]

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