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July 31 2017

No, it’s not racist to save minority kids’ lives

via New York Post
by Naomi Schaefer Riley

Everyone’s a little bit racist, even the employees of the Administration for Children’s Services. At least that’s what The New York Times would like us to believe.

In a 4,000-word feature, the paper suggested ACS is needlessly and recklessly removing minority children from their families. Citing interviews with lawyers working on behalf of parents caught up in these proceedings, the Times suggested ACS is engaged in the “criminalization of their parenting choices,” a practice they call “Jane Crow.”

God knows there are problems with ACS — I have even written a few columns about them — but the idea that racial bias is at the heart of what plagues this bureaucracy is downright absurd. There’s no doubt that black and Hispanic families make up a disproportionate number of those who come into contact with ACS.

That has been true for at least 20 years. According to ACS records, African-American children made up 31.5 percent of the population in the city in 1987 and 63.1 percent of children in foster care. In 2012, they made up 25.9 percent of the population and 59.8 percent of the children in foster care.

Agency spokeswoman Aja Worthy-Davis isn’t surprised by these numbers. Black children disproportionately make up the people “who are affected by poverty and in need of social services,” she said. So it would be surprising if they didn’t make up a disproportionate number of kids who need intervention.

But like all our conversations about “disparate impact,” the one about child welfare ignores the underlying facts. Just as we cite statistics about incarceration and police intervention without actually asking who is committing crimes, so we blame ACS for getting involved in the lives of too many black and Hispanic children without asking why that might be.

First of all, officials respond to alerts from other people — neighbors, doctors, teachers — who live in these same communities and who are generally looking out for the best interests of children. ACS workers don’t wander around neighborhoods looking for neglectful parents to pick up. This isn’t like the story of a policeman giving you a hard time for leaving your child in the car while you ran into the dry cleaners.

The agency itself isn’t exactly a hotbed of nosy white people looking to lock up minority parents. According to the most recent statistics, 65 percent of employees were black and 15 percent were Hispanic. The idea that they’re targeting families because they think racial minorities are bad parents seems a little farfetched.

How many times do we need to say that not every instance of disparate impact is proof of racism? If you compare the outcomes for black and Hispanic children involved with ACS, you might be surprised to see that although Hispanic kids make up only 36.8 percent of the population and 44 percent of the substantiated reports of abuse or neglect, they only made up 34 percent of children in foster care.

This isn’t because child-welfare workers are less likely to send these kids to foster care. Rather, former ACS Commissioner Ronald Richter notes, Hispanic children are more likely to have other relatives offer to take them in, making foster care unnecessary.

But the Times ignores these possibilities. Instead, the article is a series of outrageous anecdotes with little data (like the fact that emergency removals are actually down this year).

Richter said the cases mentioned in the story seemed “odd.” In reference to one of the anecdotes, Richter, who also served as a family court judge, told me pointedly, “I have not seen many instances of children being removed from homes simply because their parents were standing next to someone smoking weed.”

Maura Corrigan, a former Michigan Supreme Court chief justice who writes about child welfare, also found the cases mentioned to be “outliers” at best, and she speculated that there were parts of the stories that could not be revealed because of confidentiality issues. “I would want to know more.”

But Corrigan, who has been working with a number of states to develop more effective ways to determine which children are at risk, tells me, “If safety is the first concern, we need to be looking at child-death rates, and it is the case that the homicide rate among black children is about 3?½ times what it is for white ones.”

It’s a luxury of academics and journalists to be able to look at pie charts and wonder whether the pieces shouldn’t be more equal. But as Corrigan notes, “We need to be concerned about the civil rights of the child and not racial bias when there’s actual maltreatment going on.”

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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