Child Welfare in Washington State

2013 Legislative Session Recap (Mockingbird Society)

2013 BCDI Seattle Conference

WA State Child Welfare Updates

Cradle to Prison Pipeline Fact Sheet

 The child welfare system in Washington state and nation-wide represents disproportionate numbers of children of color, particularly African American and Native American children, and a disparity of system services provided.

The African American Leadership Forum believes that by growing public awareness of the overrepresentation of our children in the child welfare system, we can build critical support to dramatically improve the system for all children and to undo the effects of institutional factors that allow racial disproportionality and disparity. 

A 2004 study commissioned by the King County Coalition on Racial Disproportionality examined the foster care system and found that:

  • African American and Native American children were over represented at nearly every decision point from referral for investigation to exit.
  • While African American children represented only 6% of the state child population, after four years in care, they constituted almost 37% of the children in care.


The Washington State Racial Disproportionality Advisory Committee’s 2008 study found that:

  • Native American and African American children  were more likely to be referred for CPS investigation, removed from their homes and once placed in foster care, to stay longer (more than two years), than white children with similar experiences.


Nationally, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 2007 report that identified theories regarding the factors contributing to the disproportion of African American children in foster care. These factors included higher rates of poverty in African American families, challenges in accessing support services, racial bias in services provided, and difficulties in finding appropriate permanent homes.

Extensive evidence points to a clear relationship between family poverty and involvement in the child welfare system.   And while poverty is more likely to affect families of color, research clearly shows no higher rate of abuse or neglect in families of color.

Dr. Wanda Hackett, Board Chair of the Black Child Development Institute, that many of the issues identified in King County’s 2004 study remain critical issues, today.  “Nearly ten years later, some progress has been made in King County.  Yet African American children who are only 6% of the child population accounted for 26% of the children in foster care in 2010. Yes, an improvement, but for the children in care, it’s not nearly enough or fast enough progress.”

While significant disproportionality exists in outcomes (high school drop-out and homelessness rates) for all children in the child welfare system compared to out of system children, the overrepresentation of children of color is dramatic.   Our state legislature is beginning to address initial efforts to improve the child welfare system for children of color.  The emphasis that states nationwide have placed on service and system improvements suggests that these are important structural reforms necessary to achieve race equity. 

Clearly, a call to action is necessary on behalf of the millions of all children trapped in our child welfare system.   It is our moral imperative to develop comprehensive strategies and to implement policies that will reduce the disproportionate number of children of color and the disparity in services and outcomes they receive in today’s child welfare system.

The Black Child Development Institute (BCDI) has developed five child welfare policy priorities and encourages each of us to “advocate for public policy and innovative and progressive efforts to eliminate institutionalized racism and support positive social change.”

BCDI’s Child Welfare Public Policy Priorities

1. African American culture is recognized, respected and reflected in child welfare practice (e.g., social work training, Child Protective Services prevention practices, and community support practices that encourage family-to-family mentoring and kinship care support).

2. Child welfare practices found to be especially effective (e.g., the Culturally Competent Professional Practice approach [C2P2 originated in the DCFS Office of African American Children’s Services) be integrated into ongoing social work practice.

 3. Implement targeted efforts to actively recruit foster and adoptive families that reflect the culture and ethnicity of children in out-of-home placement and/or free for adoption, given the dearth of licensed African American foster families and adoptive parents.

 4. Full implementation of SHB 1472 to ensure that the identified racial disproportionality and service disparities in the State’s child welfare system are eliminated with a reduced of 20% each year for the next five years.

5. Prevention especially efforts in zip code 98118 (the area of greatest removal in King County) to keep African American children safely in their homes and reduce the number of African American children removed from their homes.