Black children are disproportionately represented in the welfare system

September 25, 2015

By Steve Waring

Special to The Milwaukee Times

Jermaine Reed

       Jermaine Reed

Between 1999 and 2006 the number of children in the Milwaukee County foster care system decreased by 61 percent from 6,778 open cases to 2,655. By 2006, 1,991 or about 74 percent of all open cases were African American children, according to information obtained from the Wisconsin Department of Children’s Welfare (DCW). The 2000 U.S. Census listed African Americans as representing 27 percent of the Milwaukee County population. “The pink, purple elephant in the room is why black children make up the majority of our child welfare system,” said Fresh Start Executive Ministries executive director, Jermaine Reed. “The number is out of control.”

The number of active cases of African American children in the Wisconsin foster care system remains grossly out of proportion to the percentage of African Americans, although the number decreased in Milwaukee County to 1,500 out of a total number of 2,186 in 2013, the last year for which the DCW had complete information available on its website. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, that number represents two-thirds of all open foster care cases in Milwaukee County. The percentage of African Americans resident in Milwaukee County in 2010 was 27 percent, an increase of 2 percent from the 2000 U.S. Census. “Real child welfare reform means reducing the racial disparity,” Reed said. “Blacks are disproportionately represented in the local and state welfare system. The Black community needs to ask the right questions and demand answers.”

This is a particularly opportune time to ask those questions because the DCW is in the process of undergoing a major restructuring that includes a new division administrator. Candidates for the position have already undergone interviews and an announcement on the appointment is expected soon, according to Reed. “We need to hear a specific plan from the new administrator for bringing those numbers down to reflect representation in the general population,” Reed said. “I hope that person will target the disparity.” Reed said African American parents were statistically no more likely to abuse or neglect their children than any other racial group. He said he believed that the most important factor driving so many Black children into the foster care system was poverty