Foster care providers and staff debate ways to reduce racism in the system, following reports of system inequalities. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)
LAWRENCE — State systems are like egg-breakers, Sharla Smith said, using the imagery to ask whether governmental and social systems help or harm families of color.
“When you think about what systems are doing, are they cracking the egg from the outside, which ends life and ability and resources and opportunities for Black people, or are they cracking it from the inside, which then begins life?” Smith asked.
Smith, director and founder of the Kansas Birth Equity Network, participated in a Wednesday meeting of the Kansas Racial Equity Collaborative. The collaborative is a statewide initiative geared toward spreading awareness of disparities in child welfare and advocating for equity.
In the state, disparities in treatment of Black children appear to start before birth. A state-by-state analysis of maternal deaths from 1999 to 2019 found consistently high risk in Kansas for Black mothers. Black Kansans had a 13.6% premature birth rate, 51% higher than rates for other demographics, and made up 14% of pregnancy-related deaths, but only 7.1% of birth rates, according to data from 2016 to 2018.
Black children are also consistently overrepresented in foster care. In 2021, Black children made up 14% of the total child population but 22% of all kids in foster care.
Cornerstones of Care president Meredith Rose said the organization would commit to justice.
“We will not be contributors to harm, we will not be doers of what causes the proliferation of the problem, we will identify boldly and clearly what racial divides and inequities and disproportionality looks like,” Rose said.
A 2022 report on the foster care system found out of 6,663 children and youth in DCF custody, 20% or 1,314 youth and children, were Black. According to a DCF report, almost half of the youths placed in foster care in 2022 were there because they needed better resources, not because of abuse or neglect.
Rose said the state needs improved intervention methods.
“We know that trauma begets trauma,” Rose said. “It’s almost cliche to talk about breaking the cycles, but it really starts at what is disrupting that household? What is the trauma that is leading to those issues of poverty, or homelessness or dysfunction within the house?”
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