GUIDING PRINCIPLES Employment of a Strengths-Based Perspective
African American families have identifiable strengths, including those articulated by Dr. Robert Hill in The Strengths of Black Families. These strengths include, among others: a) an achievement orientation; b) a work orientation; c) flexible family roles; d) kinship bonds; and e) a religious orientation. Professionals working with African American families must be committed to identifying these strengths, and utilizing them to frame any additional assistance and support that may be needed.
An Appreciation of Culture and Tradition
The practices of the African American extended family system are rooted in the historical and cultural value systems of our African ancestors, passed on from generation to generation and for centuries before and after our arrival in "the Americas." Just as communities and families change, so do the expressions of a community's culture, tradition and values change over time. It is expected that individuals and organizations working most effectively within the African American community and with African American families should be able to recognize and appreciate the nuances and expressions of African American culture, its traditions, values, etc., and incorporate this perspective into their work.
Ethic of Collective Responsibility for Ensuring the Well-Being of Families and Children
African American families and communities have historically assumed responsibility for the care, protection and nurturance of its children. African American life in contemporary American society has significantly impacted the traditional forms of expression of this ethic of shared and collective responsibility for ensuring the well-being of families and children. While the expression of this ethic may have been significantly impacted as a function of living and adjusting/coping within contemporary American society, it is still present in the African American extended family system and support networks. It is expected that individuals and organizations working most effectively with African American families and communities should be able to recognize and tap into this support system in an effort to effectively meet the needs of the families and children in their care.
Appreciation of Informal Adoption as a Natural Response... Implications for Kinship Care, Subsidized Guardianship and Other Placement Options
The majority of African American children who find themselves unable to live with their biological parents continue to be cared for and provided for within this "informal" extended family / kinship system. This has been a characteristic of African American family life for centuries. Individuals and organizations working with African American families must recognize a fundamental discomfort among many African Americans with the notion of "Termination of Parental Rights." Consistent with this, many African American families may be reluctant to formally adopt relatives via the American legal system given the fundamental challenges/contradictions presented by formal adoption to pre-existing family roles and relationships within many African American families and communities. These reservations are not insurmountable, however.Child welfare professionals and policy-makers must be mindful of these dynamics when considering the practice, policy and resource implications of kinship care and subsidized guardianship, (and other possible temporary and longer-term placement options for children).
CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM INVOLVEMENT
Enhancing a Community's Capacity to Ensure Family and Child Well-Being / Investment in Prevention Efforts
It is imperative that child welfare systems invest more resources into family preservation efforts, including the provision of more intensive home-based services and supports necessary to keep families intact. Public child welfare agencies, however, should not carry the full responsibility of providing direct services and supports to families in need. There are community based organizations that do this work well. Unfortunately, they are too often under-funded, under-resourced, and have limited organizational capacity. It should be a goal of public child welfare agencies to assist these smaller, yet effective, organizations in developing the organizational capacity needed to most effectively meet the needs of greater numbers of families. This would be a worthwhile investment of (public and private) resources in support of improved family and child well-being outcomes.
Minimal Level of Agency Intrusion
Removal of children from their immediate families should be the option of last resort. The majority of African American children who come to the attention of the child welfare system do so because of an allegation of some form of neglect, rather than physical and/or sexual abuse. On the other hand, the majority of White families that come to the attention of the child welfare system do so because of an allegation of abuse (physical and/or sexual). When these allegations of abuse and neglect are substantiated, African American families are more likely to be separated while white families are more likely to be provided in-home services. African American families must also be provided effective in-home services and supports to keep the family intact, while increasing their capacity to meet the material and developmental needs of their children.
Priority Placement Consideration for Relatives and
Extended Family Support Network
When it is determined that a child must be removed from her or his immediate family, every effort must be made to place the child with a relative or some other member of the extended family support network. Such placement options are more likely to minimize the trauma experienced by both the child and her or his parents during the period of separation.This approach requires agencies to do a better job of identifying and preparing potential relative support and placement resources, as well as other members of the family's extended support network at the very earliest stages of a family's involvement with the child welfare system.
Reunification as First and Preferred Permanency Goal
As soon as it is appropriate and safe, children must be reunified with their families of origin. Many professionals agree that children grow up best in a family setting that is familiar to them and with family members that are committed to and invested in their longer term healthy growth and development. Much of the data suggests that public child welfare agencies, in general, do not do a better job providing for and ensuring the safety of children in their care in comparison to the childrens' families of origin. Interestingly, when children do age out of foster care (often upon reaching their eighteenth or twenty-first birthday) they almost always go right back home or to a relative.These are often extremely unstable living arrangements, however, suggesting that these older youth / young adults could really be considered homeless. It only makes sense that public child welfare systems invest the resources necessary to support a more formal and intensive permanency-centered reunification plan that enhances the likelihood of successful transition back into the family.
Alternative Permanency Considerations for Children and Families
When family preservation efforts fail, agencies must act promptly to place children in other family settings with adults who are unconditionally committed to their optimal long-term growth and development. As mentioned previously, initial consideration should be given to relatives and other members of the extended family support network. These placements should be given the same support resources and subsidies afforded non-relative placement resources. Recent research suggests that kinship care and subsidized guardianship placements produce similar, and frequently better, outcomes for children than traditional "stranger" foster care placements. It is incumbent on public child welfare agencies to seek out the most suitable placement options for children in need of permanency, even when it takes more time or requires flexibility in waiving non-safety-related requirements.
Long-Term Impact of Child Welfare System Intervention on African American Children, Families and Communities...
Individual and Collective Impact
The general public tends to be more aware of the immediate intention of child welfare system intervention efforts (focused mostly on child protection at the earliest stages). What has not been explored nearly as much is the collective impact of child welfare system involvement on the broader network of family and community members directly connected to families experiencing child welfare system intervention, as well as the impact on the African American community-at-large. In her book, Shattered Bonds, Dorothy Roberts began to explore the broader social and political impact of punitive child welfare system intervention on the African American community. This is a line of work and investigation in need of greater exploration and discussion.
Long-Term Support for Children, Families and Communities
Impacted by Child Welfare System Intervention
Involvement with this nation's public child welfare system is often a very traumatic experience for children and families. Direct involvement with child protective services can easily last for the greater part of a year or more for a family. Compounding this experience is the reality that previous involvement with the child welfare system increases the likelihood of future involvement. This cycle has a long-term impact on the children, families and communities involved - even across generations. For children and families experiencing more punitive child welfare system intervention, this experience produces even greater long term effects. Public child welfare systems must be more responsive in providing the longer term support and resources needed by families that have been impacted by their work and intervention efforts.
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