The child welfare system coupled with the juvenile and criminal justice systems have ultimately created and perpetuated the systemic constraints and social underpinnings that keep Black families court involved and monitored.
Data reveals that pluralism across systems yields, “much earlier contact with child protection, committing the first offense at least two years earlier than the general population; had been identified with mental health concerns but not referred to treatment; and had complex trauma histories.” This leaves Black women and girls vulnerable to navigate complex, bureaucratic systems that pathologize Black life and culture. Faced with challenges at the intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status, support across the economic spectrum is what families need in order to meet their needs and goals.
The US Department of Justice report, in 2015, Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls, highlights “the impact of criminalization policies on African American women and girls who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including the impact of arrest, detention, incarceration, and mandatory minimums.” The challenges and plural systems that undermine a family’s ability to meet those needs and goals were also discussed.
While the report centers the discussion on key points and recommendations for policymakers, child welfare, and the juvenile justice systems, it also facilitates the conversation on the “unintended and undesired consequences” affecting black women and girls. This includes the hyper regulation, monitoring, and criminalization of black girls. In order to address some of the gaps identified in the report, it is imperative that a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach is developed, implemented, and evaluated. The paradox comes in when we consider the challenges of pluralism across systems.
“Criminalization includes state policies and practices that involve the stigmatization, surveillance, and regulation of the poor; that assume a latent criminality among the poor; and that reflect the creep of criminal law and the logics of crime control into other areas of law, including the welfare, systems” – Gustafason
Challenges faced by pluralism across systems
Within these systems, service users’ satisfaction, evidence based practice outcomes and effectiveness, recidivism to programs, etc. are programs which need evaluation and monitoring in order to measure effectiveness and program improvement. Across the board, within human and social services, allocation of funds for monitoring and evaluation of services is an afterthought. Child welfare programming, “specifically child protection services need funding and efforts for comprehensive oversight and evaluation.” Impacting families directly, but specifically, Black girls, program effectiveness and monitoring data analysis are a key foundation for discussions on program development, process improvement, and policy review.
Access to comprehensive training that encompasses the multilayered challenges of Black girls is imperative. These opportunities will provide a space to better equip and broaden understanding of the systemic underpinnings that impede and exacerbate their unique needs. They need professionals at all levels, who will advocate when systemic and bureaucratic injustices attempt to push them to the margins.
While standard operating protocol and procedures are readily available quality, innovation, relevance to demographics of the clientele is varied and unknown for the professionals within these systems, patriarchal, racial and capitalist ideologies are ever present. These ideologies present themselves through variance in child protective case classifications, options for in and out of home placements, length of court involvement, services referred, recommendation for child removal, etc. only to name a few.
Black girls need programming that mirrors the intersectional, co-occurring and multilayered aspects of their lives. Acknowledging and understanding how trauma, “manifests in delinquent behaviors, and how juvenile justice involvement can exacerbate the trauma,” assists in considering the harm in pluralism across systems.
This includes programming that acknowledges the many roles, barriers and systemic challenges that Black girls face in their families and communities. Data analysis and cross system communication and collaboration to identify “repeat families in the child protection system with whom traditional responses do not work” is a step towards programming that supports the Black family as a unit.
Speaking on the social work profession, Iris Carlton-Laney stated,“the profession maintains a discomforting silence when viewing inequalities and social conditions that affect African American families. Where this is true, the social work profession is helping to sustain societal oppression and facilitating the unequal distribution of power and resources.” Specifically, “social workers have a responsibility to intensively examine the ways that gender intersects and shapes” our lived experiences.
Working within child welfare and the juvenile justice system in six, I know that “girls who are in physical confrontations with a parent or guardian or other adult residing in the home are often responding to a failure to be protected from physical, sexual, or emotional harm.” The discomforting silence extends to Black girls and makes you question whether Black girls lives matters to social work.
Special attention should be given to a review of child protection policies, program existence and effectiveness, and referral to culturally relevant, trauma-informed services in an effort to increase outcomes for children and families. Recidivism factors, training resources for juvenile and family court judges, CASA’s involvement and county and statewide data should be continuously monitored and evaluated to increase the effectiveness in the child protection involvement for children of color especially black girls.
In order for collaboration, comprehensive services, and critical policy reform to occur, professionals from child welfare, juvenile justice, in addition to co-occurring (mental health, substance abuse) specialists, need to be at the policy-making table.