The Shame of Black America: Black Children in the Foster Care System

January 6, 2011

Unquestionably the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States was a milestone in the history of African Americans. Many saw his election as the capstone of an emerging era of enduring progress and achievement by blacks in America. Yet, the untold story of African American children in the foster care system undermines any claim to social progress and is a mark of shame for African Americans in particular black adults.

The latest data shows that blacks in America represent approximately 15% of the population, yet are 41% of the foster care population. Put in perspective, Andrew Billingsely points out that a 1930 study by sociologist Irene Graham documents that in Chicago in “ninety percent of black children lived with their own parents; and a portion of the remaining tenth lived with relatives.” Further the study showed that a “smaller percentage of black children in Chicago lived in broken homes than their while peers.” What accounted for this was a system of family care which black put in place, outside of any government intervention. This system of care was a moral imperative for blacks who were in many cases just removed from the horrors of slavery and the terror of the Jim Crow system.

Today, we must recapture the spirit and practice of our grandparents whose moral courage provided a family and extended family safety net and system of care for black children. This system of care gives real meaning to the phrase “Leave No Child Behind” and the African proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.” With the new social network technology, Facebook and Twitter, there is little excuse for black children to be raised in outside of their network of relatives.

The historical mission of the generation of the 60s was to dismantle the system of racial segregation and restore black dignity. The mission today for all generations is to provide for a system of care and concern for black children outside of the child welfare system. Our motto and corresponding practice must be “No Child in the Foster Care System.”

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