Spotlight on Striving for Equity in Child Welfare Practice

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Striving for Equity in Child Welfare Practice


Child welfare professionals value systems that offer quality services and supports to children and families. Longstanding disproportionality and disparities for children of color in child welfare and related systems—exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—remind us that achieving quality services for all children and families requires an intentional focus on equity.

Some key terms are used when discussing equity:

  • Disproportionality – The underrepresentation or overrepresentation of a racial or ethnic group compared to the group’s percentage in the total population[1]. In child welfare, disproportionality arises when one group—for example, African American children in foster care—appears in greater proportions than that same group’s representation in the general child population.
  • Disparity – The unequal outcomes of one racial or ethnic group as compared to outcomes for another group. In child welfare, disparity is evident when comparing unequal experiences and outcomes across racial/ethnic groups (e.g., American Indian/Alaskan Native children and White children)[2]. Disparities occur at different decision points, including initial reporting, acceptance for investigation, substantiation, out-of-home placement, and exits from care[3].
  • Racial equity – Equity is defined in terms of being impartial and fair[4]. In child welfare, racial equity means that “racial identity no longer predicts how someone will fare in the child welfare system related to assessment, service quality, or opportunities[5]."


  • More than half (53 percent) of all Black children and their parents will experience a child abuse or neglect investigation before the child turns 18[6].
  • Children of color are represented in foster care at a rate that is two to three times higher than that of White children[7].
  • Families of color (Black, Hispanic, Native American/Alaskan Native, and those of more than one race) are disproportionately reported for abuse and neglect and their cases are more likely to be substantiated at investigation than white, non-Hispanic families[8].


Racial equity is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive response. Child welfare agencies can begin to respond with the following interrelated steps:

  • Examine state and local data broken down by race to explore disproportionality and disparity
  • Analyze underlying root causes of inequities, looking at system, policy, and human factors
  • Engage families and community members in conversations about agency data findings, root causes, and potential strategies to promote equity
  • Examine organizational culture and promote shared values of equity and inclusion
  • Create partnerships with community organizations to better meet family needs early on

The Capacity Building Center for States offers resources that can support each of these steps. Selected resources and related resources on racial equity appear below.

Resources on Problem Exploration and Root Cause Analysis

Resources on Family Engagement

Resources on Shifting Culture

Resources on Community Partnerships

Related Resources on Racial Equity

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