Racial disproportionality and disparities are a well-known problem in the child welfare (CW) system, amplifying the need for major reform to the system. Though prior studies have advanced the field by fine-tuning quantitative methods for describing the problem, rarely have they used community-based participatory methods that center Black families and community. Based on a research team’s experience of conducting Institutional Analysis (IA) in one urban community, this paper begins the work of identifying and describing a framework for anti-oppressive and anti-racist research in CW. Given the US racialized history of forced separation of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities (Briggs, 2020); current racial disparities in CW; and, coercive, patriarchal, and oppressive characteristics of the CW system, an equity-centered and justice-oriented framework is necessary for CW research. The aim of this paper is to describe a research approach that interrogates and dismantles problematic structures, sets goals in partnership with and is accountable to community, and applies practices that honor and support Black families and communities.
This paper is a descriptive case study of the approach to one Midwestern state’s federally-funded demonstration grant. It represents a retrospective, reflective and longitudinal exploration of a two-year period. Case study was selected as an appropriate design due to the need for in-depth description (Yin, 2018). The sample comprised members of the research team trained in IA. These team members met at least weekly for two years, engaging in discussion and application of anti-racist approaches. Analyses were conducted through consensus-based thematic analysis that emerged from weekly meetings. Using common documents, screen-sharing, and critical analysis, the team developed the guiding principles through an iterative, full-consensus and co-created process.
Six guiding principles were identified and described. 1) Applying an anti-racist/anti-oppressive research method that centers lived experience and promotes system reform and accountability; 2) Responding to wise skepticism and distrust from the Black community; 3) Developing a guiding covenant as commitment to community; 4) Initiating and sustaining anti-racism practice in the research team; 5) Centering Black parents’ lived experience in data collection and analysis; and, 6) Taking action and ensuring accountability.
Innovative research methods are needed to eliminate unnecessary child and parent separation and to establish supports for families that ensure they can thrive within their culturally-specific and self-determined communities. It is incumbent upon researchers and others working to address racial disproportionality and disparities in CW that methods honor and recognize these goals and do not perpetuate further harm. This paper describes six guiding principles of an anti-oppressive and anti-racist framework for research in CW. It gives examples of community-based participatory methods used by one research team to center, honor, and partner with Black families and communities in CW reform efforts that interrogate system policies, practices, values, and norms, and disrupt ongoing systemic oppression of Black families. This approach prioritizes authentic engagement and power sharing with individuals and communities with lived experience, demonstrating commitment to action and accountability necessary for reimaging a system that supports thriving families and communities.