Spotlight On Racial Equity and Continuous Quality Improvement in Child Welfare

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Spotlight On February 2023

Racial Equity and Continuous Quality Improvement in Child Welfare


Families of color are disproportionately represented in our child welfare agencies nationwide. Children of color are more likely to be placed in foster care and more likely to experience multiple placement disruptions while in care. In 2020, Black youth represented a quarter of the foster care population while making up only 15 percent of the general population, and almost 3 percent of the foster care population were American Indian youth, compared to 1 percent of the general population.1 It is vital for jurisdictions to be culturally aware and consider socio-economic disparities and personal bias when making intervention or placement decisions.

A continued, intentional focus is required to embed equity into child welfare practice and disrupt processes that cause disproportionality. Using a continuous quality improvement (CQI) approach can help child welfare agencies identify root causes; review and revise the policies, processes, and practices that contribute to disproportionality; and find adaptive solutions to mitigate inequities. Including communities, families, and youth affected by the system throughout the CQI process is one strategy to help guard against perpetuating inequities. The structured CQI process, from thinking about data collection and analysis to envisioning and implementing changes, can help agencies take the actions needed over time in a sustainable and data-informed way.

CQI Practices to Advance Equity2

Making substantial change takes time, intentionality, and the commitment to work differently. CQI practices that are executed with considerations of racial equity, diversity, and inclusion should be infused in all aspects of child welfare work with measures in place to stay accountable in order to:

  • Ensure support is in place to enable community partners, youth and family members with lived expertise, and individuals that are most affected by the problem to participate on your CQI team
  • Learn from and share decision-making power with those most affected by the implementation of child welfare programs and practices to understand the context behind the data and explore root causes impacting performance
  • Seek, listen to, and incorporate the perspectives of families, community members, and staff of color to provide contextual knowledge to the data and explore root causes of disproportionality
  • Collect, use, and analyze disaggregated data to identify trends, strengths, and concerns among population groups who have experienced inequitable treatment and disproportionate outcomes
  • Collect qualitative data that can add detail to and augment understanding of what is summarized in aggregate data
  • Transfer data into user-friendly, culturally responsive formats and languages tailored to community and system partners, including families

Example: Using Data to Visualize Disparities and Spark Discussion

Examining disaggregated data in a simple line graph can help identify patterns and outliers across race and ethnicity in Child and Family Services Review (CFSR) performance indicators like permanency. Make note if the numbers of children in some racial/ethnic categories are smaller numbers when looking at trends and percentages.

The line graph (to the right) includes example and fictional data that demonstrate how agencies can show trends over time for the percentage of children who had been in care 12–23 months at the beginning of the period under review and discharged to permanency during the period. In the example, a higher percentage of White children discharged to permanency during the period than their Black or Hispanic peers.

Line graph showing disparate permanency outcomes across race and ethnicity, from fiscal year 2019 to 2021 using fictional data.

Questions to explore:

  • How do permanency rates for children who have been in care for 12–23 months compare with other CFSR Statewide Data Indicator performance?
  • How do they compare disaggregated by race and ethnicity?
  • What factors may be contributing to changes in permanency for children in care 12–23 months over time?
  • How does permanency for children in care 12–23 months differ by race and ethnicity and locality?
  • For those children who discharged for a reason of permanency, what type of permanency was achieved?
  • For those who remained in care, what were their case plan goals?


Advancing racial equity and reducing disparities for children, youth, and families of color in child welfare will require ongoing, collaborative work. Agencies can take intentional steps in their work toward more equitable programs and practices by merging racial equity principles with a CQI approach and centering the voices of youth and families with lived expertise.

To help child welfare agencies advance equity, the Capacity Building Center for States (the Center) partners with states and jurisdictions in examining data, assessing organizational needs, and developing strategies to address disproportionality and disparities among historically marginalized populations. The Center offers several resources that encourage ongoing conversations, share promising practices, and promote action steps:


RE Shared Vocabulary

Learning Experiences and Archived Webinars

CWVE 2021 LE

Related Resources

Equitable Data Working group

Related Organizations

Casey Family Logo
  • Casey Family Programs – Works to influence long-lasting improvements to the well-being of children, families, and the communities where they live. They provide consulting services to child welfare systems; direct services to children and families; public policy resources; and research and analysis.
  • Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago – Chapin Hall is dedicated to the idea that evidence should drive decisions. They work in three primary impact areas: child welfare systems; community capacity, including schools, courts, and before- and after-school programs; and youth homelessness.
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway – Promotes the safety, permanency, and well-being of children, youth, and families by connecting child welfare, adoption, and related professionals as well as the public to information, resources, and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse and neglect, out-of-home care, adoption, and more.

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