Abstract: Promoting Racial Equity in Child Welfare: Perceptions of Public Child Welfare Administrators (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Promoting Racial Equity in Child Welfare: Perceptions of Public Child Welfare Administrators

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 8, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Crystal Collins-Camargo, PhD, Associate Dean for Research and Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY

Concerns regarding the differential involvement of families of color in the child welfare system has been discussed for decades. Children of color are disproportionately exposed to a wide variety of risks impacting their wellbeing and have disproportional contact with the public child welfare (PCW) system. Research has begun to examine how racist perceptions, practices and policies within the PCW system influences how families are served. There has been a groundswell of calls for abolishing or reforming the PCW system to implement antiracist practices and promote racial equity. Although many public agencies have implemented initiatives in response, the literature has not documented perspective of the administrators of those agencies. This study explored the perceptions of PCW agency administrators regarding the inequities they observe in the system, challenges experienced in promoting racial equity/antiracist practice, and strategies they believe have the greatest potential for moving the field forward.


A snowball sample of executive-level agency administrators was recruited through a partnership with the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators and editorial board members of the Journal of Public Child Welfare. Attention was paid to recruiting a diverse sample in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location and state/county responsibility. Semi-structured interviews conducted on an online meeting platform were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using constant comparative analysis to generate broad themes. To promote rigor and validity in the analysis, a follow up focus group was conducted to obtain feedback and correct misinterpretation.


Sixteen managers participated, three serving as regional/county directors and the remaining with state-level responsibility. Geographically, five represented eastern, four western, four central, and three southern states. The sample was racially diverse (56% non-Caucasian), with a mean of 23 years in child welfare and 3.8 years in their current position. Participants identified inequities at each decision point in the service delivery system beginning with the original referral. Challenges in addressing these issues ranged from inadequate social work education to the tendency to observe and measure but not solve the problem to systemic racism across all institutions impacting families. Managers offered specific strategies they believe have the greatest potential to promote racial equity, including shifting funding and service delivery to authentically support families through community agencies, engaging all staff in courageous conversations regarding racism and promoting self-reflective antiracist practice, identifying effective practice through research, revising all policies and practices through a racial equity lens, and empowering families as program co-designers.


As dialogue continues regarding how best to refocus services on prevention and supporting families, or reforming or abolishing the PCW system, the field can benefit from the perspectives of those administrators working every day to deliver and improve the services provided to children and families. The results of this study provide a glimpse of the real challenges facing these agencies and a rich pool of strategies either currently underway or conceptualized which can inform the broader discussion about how to best support children and families in an equitable way. Further research into propose approaches to promote equity is needed.