Black children in foster care urgently need permanent families—By Karen Franklin Guest Commentator

“I have been in long-term foster care since the age of two and a half,” says Aminah, a foster care youth. ”I have experienced living in 10 different foster homes and have had more than 15 different placements. I wish that more people would take advantage of the chance to provide a better life for a child. “You have the opportunity to save a child from an unsafe environment by either being a foster or adoptive parent.

There are children and teens of all ages who need foster or adoptive parents to be positive role models in their lives.” Large numbers of Black children in need of adoptive homes are spending significant amounts of their childhood in foster and institutional care rather than in permanent homes. It is a troubling fact that more youth are aging out of care without any permanent connections.

Every youth who emancipates without reunification or permanency is a youth the community has allowed to fail. Attention to the well-being of African American children in the child welfare system needs to become a top priority for the African American community. For decades, we have acknowledged and discussed the reasons for inequities of children in out-of-home placement. However, time is of the essence; it is crucial for these children that promising solutions be found. Many factors influence the disproportionate number of African American children entering the foster care system. African American families’ high rates of poverty are particularly prominent. Factors often cited as affecting African American children’s length of stay in foster care include the lack of appropriate adoptive or foster homes for children, greater use of kinship care among African Americans, and parents’ lack of access to supportive services needed for reunification with their children. African American families’ challenges in accessing supports and social services also influence African American children’s entry to foster care. African American families living in impoverished neighborhoods often do not have access to the kinds of supports and services that can prevent problems in the home leading to abuse or neglect.

Such supports include affordable and adequate housing, substance abuse treatment, and services such as parenting skills and counseling or access to legal representation in the courts responsible for making decisions about our children. Children in foster care who have experienced assaults on their development and well-being require environments that will alleviate rather than heighten their vulnerability. Our African American youth should have opportunities to develop nurturing attachments to parents and siblings, educational achievement, establish friendships with peers, and find acceptance and support in all areas of their lives.

It is especially important that they achieve permanency with families that are able to address their needs and maximize their overall potential. For any child in foster care, the goal is to find a family who can offer the greatest opportunity for healthy growth and development. Karen Franklin is a recruitment specialist for the Permanent Families Recruitment Project at Ramsey County Human Services. She welcomes reader responses to Karen.Franklin@co.ramsey.mn.us.