HARRIS COUNTY, Texas - A report from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services shows African American children are disproportionately taken into CPS custody more often than kids of other races. So what’s being done about it?
Many advocates say not enough and they say the problem of Black children overwhelmingly being taken from their parents and placed in CPS care has happened far too long.
The home video and pictures of the Burch family show smiling happy faces. What you don’t see is the eight month battle Renequa Burch endured as she fought to get her kids back and out of CPS custody.
"I was working to pay legal fees. I emptied my savings," says Burch, who is actually a social worker.
Three of her four kids are adopted. The four youngest were taken by CPS in 2018, as she was going through a divorce and three weeks into a summer day camp, someone reported her to CPS.
"The 4-year-old, she said, he had a bruise on his back and it was yellow and close to his bottom and as she was describing it I said, ‘are you talking about his birthmark?’ She was," Burch explains. In fact, she says everything the CPS worker pointed out, such as the ringworm her son was being treated for had a simple explanation. She believes her children were taken because of the color of her skin.
"If I was a white mom that had adopted kids, especially Black kids, I would be praised."
"I think that unfortunately white families are given a presumption of fitness, where I don’t think we see the same, especially with the African American families that we serve," says Tara Green, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit Foster Care Advocacy Center.
"It’s not a surprise at all. In fact, it’s not a surprise to anyone who works in the system or is familiar with the system. The problem of Black children being over-represented has been known for at least 60 years," says Alan Dettlaff, who is the Dean of the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston and a former CPS worker.
"There was a study I was involved in in the mid-2000’s when the state was mandated to look at disproportionality that showed that Black children in Texas were 77% more likely than white children to be removed from their homes in lieu of receiving services in the home and CPS is less likely to allow African American children to stay with family members."
"In the African American community, you’ll see relatives are barred either because of over-policing in the community, so they have a criminal history or they won’t have adequate housing. So that’s kind of a spin-off of having issues of redlining," says Tiffany Cebrun an Attorney with the Foster Care Advocacy Center.
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Travis County 126th State District Court Judge Aurora Martinez Jones points to two cases she had where two women were arrested in different traffic stops for drug possession. The police officer allowed the white mom to call her mother to pick up her child but the Black mom wasn’t given that same chance and her kid was taken away by CPS.
"You can’t ask me to make to make two different decisions with parents who are seemingly in the same position and the only difference I can see is the color of their skin," says Judge Jones.
"Much of the public has become aware of the harm and the trauma that parents and children experience when children are separated from parents at the border. That same harm and trauma occurs when children are separated from their parents by child protection agencies," says Dettlaff.
"I had to watch my children suffer," adds Burch.
"It doesn’t make sense that a system that’s supposed to be there to help support and protect children, is causing additional trauma to children," says Judge Jones.
CPS says, "Disproportionality – the over-representation of minorities in a system - is found across many systems including child welfare, education, juvenile justice, criminal justice, and health care.
This is true both nationally and in Texas. Statistics show those who report allegations of abuse and neglect to DFPS are more likely to make reports regarding African American children. And minority children are more likely to be removed from their families. DFPS is committed to partnering with representatives across systems and, importantly, with communities to listen and to address issues of disproportionality in CPS.
Since 2004, CPS has been training staff, developing leadership, and evaluating and adjusting its policies to address disproportionality. For example:
- Field staff, supervisors, and administrators are required to take training to increase cultural responsiveness and understanding of poverty issues.
- CPS provides financial support for kinship care to help relatives care for children, so children can stay with extended family rather than entering foster care."
Again it took Renequa Burch about eight months to get her kids back after CPS took them away.
The Houston non-profit, Foster Care Advocacy Center, which offers free services, suggests parents contact them when CPS first opens an investigation into their family because the group says once kids are taken away by CPS there’s only a one in five chance the parents will get their kids back.
You can reach Foster Care Advocacy Center at 713-814-3930 or www.fcactexas.org.