Why are Latinos so overrepresented in the state child welfare system?

Raquel, who did not want her last name used, is one of thousands of Latino families struggling to navigate a state child welfare system that is disproportionately ensnaring members of their community – and that is not always well-positioned to serve them. Latino children are more likely than white children to have an open DCF case and more likely to be removed from their homes. In fact, according to the national research organization Child Trends, Latinos were more overrepresented in foster care in Massachusetts than in any other state…

Susan Elsen, a staff attorney in the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s family and child justice unit, said the statistics show that the racial disparity in DCF starts at the front of the system, when families are first flagged for attention, usually by mandated reporters. The fact that the disparity persists and leads to Latino children being removed from their homes suggests that DCF also needs more interventions to help families once they enter the system. “We have to affirmatively do something to reduce the racial disproportionality as kids go through the system,” Elsen said….

Elsen said cultural factors could also play a role in how DCF evaluates families. For example, the agency might impose space and room requirements, which would consider having a child sleeping on a living room couch unacceptable, even if the child is comfortable. Latino families may be more willing to rely on extended family or community to supervise a child, while DCF wants more supervision in the immediate household.

“Often, if you evaluate a family from a perspective of a white middle-class person and you haven’t been trained to understand the way another culture might operate, what their strengths are and how they do parenting, then you may just see differences as deficits, and you may not even perceive the strengths,” Elsen said… Read more in Commonwealth Magazine.