Abstract: "He Could've Been Me" Black Social Workers Experiences Placing Black Foster Children (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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184P "He Could've Been Me" Black Social Workers Experiences Placing Black Foster Children

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Dominique Mikell, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
"We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it."– Michelle Alexander

Background and Purpose:

Black children historically have been and presently are poorly served by the child welfare system. Besides, the overrepresentation of Black children in care, the maltreatment of Black children while they are in care, has been an ongoing issue. Notwithstanding this fraught history, there is limited research on how race impacts Black children's placement. The purpose of this research is to understand how Black social workers experience the matching and placing of Black foster children. This study focuses on the experiences of Black social workers because of their unique positionality as on the ground practitioners and members of the Black community.


This study is implemented within the methodological framework of constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014). Interview data was gathered from fifteen Black social workers across the nation who currently or recently have practiced in the field of child welfare. These participants were asked to describe two experiences in which they were involved in the matching and placement of a Black child. Participants were also asked to discuss the relationship between the racial background of the child and the placement outcome.

The analysis process consisted of multiple rounds of inductive coding and memo writing. Data analysis co-occurred with data collection. Analysis techniques such as diagramming, theoretical sorting, and integrating memos were used to finalize results.


Analysis of the data resulted in three significant findings regarding how Black social workers experience the placement of Black children. Firstly, it was found that Black social workers experience Black identity as having a role in placement dynamics. The majority of Black social workers described the placement and matching process as racially biased against Black children and expressed feelings of frustration due to this perception. Secondly, workers experienced the context in which they placed Black youth as one of an unchangeable detrimental deficit. Black social workers identified that the lack of resources such as financial resources to support kin placements and appropriately sized caseloads were significant unconquerable challenges to serving Black youth well. Thirdly, workers experienced their role as necessitating the empathic use of self to serve Black youth adequately. These workers attempted to align themselves with the Black youth and the youth's family when making decisions and believed that doing so was a valuable practice that they were uniquely able to accomplish.

Conclusions and Implications:

This study found Black caseworkers experience the child welfare system as particularly harmful to Black children during the placement process however, results suggested that these poor outcomes can be combatted. These findings imply employing Black social workers who actively attempt to relate to children and their families and giving those workers control over resources can lead to better outcomes for Black youth. If the system is committed to better serving Black children, these strategies must be adopted rapidly.


Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications Ltd.