Brokering a Better Relationship with Communities of Color | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

In 2016, when the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities released its report, a key focus of it was on the disproportionate rate at which children of color are removed from their homes. 

Research confirms that a parent of color with low income is more likely to be reported for child abuse or neglect and more likely to be substantiated. A child of color is also more likely to enter the foster care system than a white child. Black children make up 13.7 % of the population and 23% of children in foster care.  

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Kim Pearson, Sheila Boxley and Michelle Callejas

The resulting fear and mistrust with which families of color view those who work in the child welfare system makes it harder to bridge the divide between families who need support and the systems that are intended to support them. One California program has emerged that shows promise in building the trust necessary for child welfare to work justly and with impact. The Cultural Brokers Family Advocate Program is essential to giving these families a voice to help navigate a very complex system. 

The program was first launched by the Fresno County Department of Social Services in 2003. It was responsive to community concerns about children being disproportionately represented in the county’s child welfare system. 

Cultural Brokers step in to facilitate Black families’ interactions with child welfare when a report is made. They assess family needs and connect families to resources that can help address the underlying causes of CPS involvement. 

The collaborative efforts of Fresno County and Cultural Brokers Inc., founded by Executive Director Margaret Jackson, caught the attention of the Department of Child, Family and Adult Services (DCFAS) in Sacramento County while officials reviewed promising practices as part of the Child Safety Forward initiative to address their own county concerns with disproportionality and disparities. DCFAS implemented the program as a strategy within the Black Child Legacy Campaign, a community- and government-driven collaborative established to address the alarming fact that Black children in Sacramento County were dying at more than two times the rate of any other racial or ethnic group.  

The approach is grounded in the belief that child welfare agencies cannot do this work alone, and the voice of Black families is needed to help counter systematic challenges that exist across child- and family-serving systems. The model coordinates a response to address the safety, permanency and well-being of Black children and families who come to the department’s attention. The program also addresses the critical need for culturally responsive services.   

Launched in 2018, the Sacramento model uses community-based advocates, known as Brokers, to assist Black families with navigating CPS. Brokers receive training through Cultural Brokers Inc.’s accredited program and they complete a CPS-specific training — similar to what new social workers receive — to more effectively advocate for families. Brokers work collaboratively with CPS social workers, attend court hearings and identify circles of support that keep children safely with their families. Should  the team be unable to mitigate safety factors, Brokers help identify relatives to step in and provide care while parents begin reunification services.  

Brokers have become the trusted link between Black families and CPS, ensuring parent voice is uplifted. The program has had tremendous impact, successfully connecting families with a broad range of resources including housing, employment, parenting skills training, substance use, mental health counseling, and other culturally responsive community-based resources. 

The focus of the Brokers is to support behavioral changes related to child safety. Since the inception of the Sacramento Cultural Broker program, 552 families have been assigned a Broker and 397 of those cases have closed. Of those, 44% saw kids reunified with their family; 28% were adopted or entered legal guardianship; 25% avoided an entry into foster care; and in 3% of cases, the department lost contact with the family. .  

Within one year of case closure, 18% came back to the attention of CPS, but only eight of those 73 cases resulted in further court intervention.    

The transformation we see today supports the idea that CPS is one component in a shared, community-wide responsibility for child and family well-being, with an emphasis on prevention and a public health approach that addresses the social determinants of health. By ensuring communities of color are respected and not unfairly targeted due to circumstances related to poverty, CPS can build the trust necessary to enable all families to achieve well-being and thrive.

About the Authors

Kim Pearson

Kim Pearson is a division manager in the Department of Child, Family and Adult Services (DCFAS) and was responsible for starting the Cultural Broker program in Sacramento County. She continues to lead and oversee the program and is always seeking opportunities to expand it.

Michelle Callejas

Michelle Callejas is the director of the DCFAS, which includes child welfare services. DCFAS allocates funding for the Cultural Broker program as well as the Black Child Legacy Campaign.

Sheila Boxley

Sheila Boxley is the President & CEO of the Child Abuse Prevention Center, a local and state organization that provides services, training, research and advocacy and serves as the association for the 500 family resource centers in California.


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