Escape

Publications

While helping individual youths, we sometimes see the same problems over and over – often these are problems that few other people are willing to talk about.

When that happens, we try to raise standards, help educate the community, put tools in the hands of people who can help.  One of the ways we do this is by providing information that isn’t widely available elsewhere.  We publicize helpful guides and tools, provide information accessible to youth, and develop short publications that help build community understanding of serious issues in our midst.

Sex Trafficking in Your Backyard

by Maggie Berndt

When you hear the term “Sex Trafficking,” what comes to mind? Girls in countries far away from Milwaukee being forced to perform sexual acts for the monetary benefit of a pimp? Or maybe you know that sex trafficking is happening in this country as well, so then you imagine pimps bringing young girls over from Africa or South America to work the streets of L.A. or Las Vegas.

Would you believe it if I told you sex trafficking was also happening right here in Milwaukee involving youth who are Milwaukee born and bred? Or that youth in foster care and runaways are at a higher risk of being trafficked? And that boys are just as much at risk as girls?

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Let’s start by dispelling a few myths about trafficking.

Myth: A person has to be taken to a different city, state or country in order for it to count as trafficking.

Reality: The legal definition of trafficking has nothing to do with transportation. A young person can be trafficked out of his or her own home.

Myth: It only happens in other nations or involves foreign victims.

Reality: Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States involving 100,000 – 300,000 U.S. children a year in addition to adults and foreign victims. Accurate statistics are difficult to obtain, because most research is focused on minors.

Myth: Most kids are kidnapped off the street and forced to work for a stranger.

Reality: While unfortunately some kids are kidnapped, it is far more common that the victim knows his or her trafficker. Sometimes a child is first pimped out by a parent or other relative, or a child and parent are pimped out together. Other times victims think of their pimp as a boyfriend and refer to him as such. If you’re hearing from a 14 year old about a 30 year old boyfriend, think twice.

Myth: If a person isn’t getting paid for sex, it’s not a crime.

Reality: Pay, as well as initial consent, is irrelevant if the victim is under 18. If someone under 18 is involved in a commercial sex act, it’s considered trafficking. It doesn’t matter if the youth never sees any of the money. For victims over 18, proof that a sex act is performed by force, fraud, or coercion constitutes trafficking and again the victim does not have to see any of the money.

Myth: Victims are going to identify themselves and want help leaving their pimp.

Reality: Oftentimes victims don’t immediately seek help, or even identify as victims for a number of reasons. They have experienced abuse their whole lives and trafficking is not that different. In some instances they may blame themselves for the things they have done. Other times a pimp has a youth convinced either that this is only a short-term solution until the two of them can afford a house together or that the youth is worthless and doesn’t deserve anything better than “the life.” This is why, if you work closely with youth, it is important to not make snap judgments and have patience as it takes time to build trust.

Sex trafficking can carry many images and connotations, and sometimes “sex trafficking” isn’t an appropriate term to describe a situation, such as having a “sugar daddy” (an older male who gives fancy gifts in exchange for sex) or working a supporting role for a pimp or prostitute – such as recruiting or babysitting while other girls work – but never actually having sex. For this series, we use the term sex trade to include all of these circumstances and cover the bases that the term “trafficking” does not.

While law enforcement officers are concerned with trafficking and the sexual assault of minors, they shouldn’t be the only ones fighting this issue. People who work with youth need to be concerned about any impact the sex trade is having on youth. Don’t just leave it to law enforcement to fix this problem. We can make a difference.

It is also important to be aware of the youth at a higher risk of involvement in the sex trade. This includes youth in foster care, homeless and/or unemployed youth, LGBTQ youth, and youth of color.

A youth’s involvement with the sex trade does not always start or end with sex trafficking. There is a continuum where one thing can lead to another.   What starts off as an innocent night of dancing, can lead to years of being abused and pimped as a prostitute against a young girl’s will. (Watch this short video: Making of a Girl)

There are a number of factors that push and pull a youth into the sex trade.  These factors include money, survival, the influence of family or friends, or a search for love and attention. More details are available here.

It is very important for anyone working with youth to be aware of this continuum. It helps so we can intervene early or in situations that don’t technically fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement.

Imagine you are the high school teacher in this story and you hear from one of the students in your class that another student is listed on an escort website as 18. You know she’s only 14. What do you do about this? It can be overwhelming.

The first step is to arm yourself with knowledge. In the next part of this series – we sit down with Claudine O’Leary, Milwaukee’s resident expert on working with youth impacted by the sex trade. She’ll offer her advice on how we can help our youth before it’s too late.

 

More Human Trafficking Resources

To Report a Trafficking Tip: 1-888-3737-888 or online http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip

**If you are a youth involved in the sex trade in need of emergency shelter, please go to:

Walkers Point – 732 S 21st Street, Milwaukee, WI for 11-17 year olds
24 hour crisis hotline: 414-647-8200
or
Pathfinders Youth Shelter – 1416 E Kane Place, Milwaukee, WI for 11-17 year olds
Pathfinders Drop-In Center – 4200 N Holton Street, Suite 400 – day use for 11-25 year olds
24 hour hotline for issues of youth sexual violence: 414-271-9523

Note: Foster youth should call a hotline or visit the Pathfinders Drop-In Center to request assistance.  Due to funding restrictions, foster youth may face limitations on stays in emergency shelter.  Other options may be available.

Sex Trafficking in Your Backyard Part Two: Time to Start Helping Youth

by Maggie Berndt

What is it like to be a teen without a stable home?  Homeless teens, teens in foster care and “couch-surfing” teens are at greater risk of being exploited than other teens.

How do we help keep teens safe?

A good place to start is for caring adults to educate themselves about the risks faced by teens and learn how to help.  To shed some light on this vital topic, I sat down with Claudine O’Leary.

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A good place to start is for caring adults to educate themselves about the risks faced by teens and learn how to help.  To shed some light on this vital topic, I sat down with Claudine O’Leary.

Claudine O’Leary is Milwaukee’s resident expert on working with youth impacted by the sex trade. Ms. O’Leary is originally from Chicago, where she co-founded the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, a safe, respectful, free-of-judgment space for girls and young women in the sex trade to recognize their goals, dreams and desires. Claudine is currently a community leader and educator.  She works with youth and educates adults about how to effectively and respectfully support youth impacted by the sex trade.

Kids Matter: What are some tips you have for recognizing youth involved with the sex trade?

Claudine O’Leary: I think the best way to know if youth are involved in trading sex for money or survival is to ask. This can be hard for adults who feel uncomfortable talking about sex or exploitation. But caring adults need to talk about it first to let youth know we are nonjudgmental and ready to listen.

You can ask something really basic like “has anyone offered you money for sexual stuff like taking sexual pictures or being touched?” or “many youth in difficult situations trade sex or sexual stuff for survival needs or money, has that been your experience?” After asking, remember to listen! Youth say all the time that no one asked and really listened to them. I’d like us to change that.

Kids Matter: Can you give us more specifics about what the term “sex trade” covers?

Claudine O’Leary: I’m using the term sex trade to cover a whole range of ways that youth can be involved in sexual exchanges for money or resources. Some of those ways include:

Sex for gifts – For some youth the sex trade means dating older partners who pay for cell phones, new outfits or getting your hair done. Some people call it having a sugar daddy or sugar mommy.

Survival sex – For some youth, being very poor, kicked out of the house, running away, becoming homeless when the whole family loses housing and or being in unstable housing situations means being approached by adults who offer to “help” you for a price. At times the adult is open about it. But sometimes a teen doesn’t realize until later that something sexual (like nude photos, being touched, watched or other sexual acts) will be required in exchange for food, a ride, a place to sleep for the night. “You’re hungry? Come on over to my house for dinner.”  “Oh, you need a place to stay? I’ll help you out. But I failed to mention that I only have one bed. I hope you don’t mind.”

Commercial sex industry – Stripping/exotic dancing, porn through videos, photos and webcams and other parts of the legal sex industry are only legal of course when everyone is 18 or over. But some of us work with youth who have aged out of foster care or are struggling as young adults in the legal sex industry.

Underground sex trade – This covers all the ways that youth are involved in sex or sexual activities for money on the street, in people’s homes, in hotel rooms and all over. Sometimes the youth keeps the money; sometimes the youth never sees any of the money as a pimp would take it all.

Support roles – The sex trade is much bigger than people think. Even teens get involved as drivers, security, taking calls from men who want to pay for sex or watching kids while other youth are having sex for money. From these supporting roles they witness another young person coming back with large amounts of cash. They can begin to feel like a part of a community or family. This is connected to recruiting because it can lower people’s resistance to the idea or sometimes youth are set up to believe they are needed to help “just this once” to have sex for money.A youth can be at a different spot on the continuum at different times in his or her life. For example, perhaps a youth was pimped out by her parents (as 25% initially are) at age 6, and now that she’s older and of no use to them, she has moved on to a sugar daddy (an older man who takes care of her financially in exchange for sex) – – because that’s the only life she knows. This is why social service workers who work with youth are so important. The police are not always the answer, having a sugar daddy is not technically illegal if a youth is 18.

Even if all of the pimps are arrested, the sex trade would still exist. And we cannot blame the youth. We created this system of the sex trade. It is the result of the combined efforts of a number of failing systems which will take years to undo.

Kids Matter: What is currently being done about this, and what sort of rights do the youth involved in the sex trade have?

Claudine O’Leary: It depends on who you ask. I think for many youth workers and most youth involved in the sex trade, it doesn’t seem like enough is being done. We don’t have the resources for youth to offer as alternative options. Many adults are very judgmental and blame youth for their own exploitation. And the serious systemic inequalities that fuel the sex trade aren’t really being addressed. For example, Milwaukee’s youth unemployment is very high but there’s always someone ready to give you money if you’re willing to take your clothes off.

However we are seeing more interest and concern among both system and community-based partners. Local law enforcement are investigating the organized trafficking networks and making many arrests. People in Milwaukee and across the state are convening to determine what we can do better. We have a new statewide human trafficking protocol that outlines the legal definition of trafficking which includes all minors involved in commercial sex and offers ideas on a better community response.

I’m not sure we have a lot of agreement as a community about what rights youth impacted by the sex trade have. In some ways people think youth involved in trading sex should be treated as a victim of a crime, with everything that might mean. But for many youth, that doesn’t really deal with core issues of needing a safe place to live, meaningful educational opportunities, living wage jobs, and welcoming communities and support.

But sometimes rights we have are the ones we claim for ourselves. So I’d say youth have the right to be involved in the process of figuring out our community response. Not only do we need to listen to youth, we need to make sure they are involved in making change.

Kids Matter: So what can we do?

Claudine O’Leary: I think we need to transform how we respond to the reality of teen involvement in the sex trade. That means making telling an adult a more positive experience for youth, instead of the overwhelmingly negative experience that many youth report right now. This is partly about creating more options so we can offer real alternatives when youth open up. Sometimes it’s just being nonjudgmental and offering your support. Instead of saying “I can’t believe you did that,” youth need to hear “I’m so glad you told me. Let’s work on some options together.”

Kids Matter: Sex is never an easy issue to discuss with youth. Do you have any tips?

Claudine O’Leary: The trick is to look for opportunities to bring up the topic of the sex trade and have a dialog.

You can use stories that are in the news, or popular movies or songs that relate as an opener. “Hey did you hear about this story? Do you think something like that could happen at your school?” Ask questions often. Even if youth don’t open up initially, find ways to keep asking. It shows you’re patient, and can wait for the right time. Sometimes teens are very open and honest, but it’s the adults who shut down the conversation. We have to become more comfortable talking about the topic of sex with youth.

By now you may be thinking of missed opportunities you’ve encountered with youth, or replaying conversations thinking “what should I have said differently?” If you have the chance you can try again. Or just keep it in mind for the future.

Kids Matter: What do you do when a youth you’re working with discloses that she or he is impacted by the sex trade?

Claudine O’Leary: Many youth workers wonder what to do beyond making any required report. Some youth workers are concerned that many youth don’t want to talk about alternatives right away or appear uninterested in getting help. But I think if adults focused on three points they’d have much more success in connecting with youth involved in trading sex.

Think of it this way: S.O.S. Safety. Options. Support.

Safety – Ask the young person what they do to stay safe. Every youth involved in the sex trade thinks about safety and has taken important steps to keep as safe as possible. Listen to the strategies youth have developed, express your support for what they’ve done so far to take care of themselves and offer some additional ideas from safety planning that you would do for anyone.

Options -Offer options and alternatives to meet the needs youth have. Youth have said they were told to stop but then no one offered any alternatives or options to do something different. If you don’t know of good options, offer to look into possibilities together with the youth.

Support – Sometimes this just means listening. Your first instinct might be to try to fix everything. But the best support can be listening without judgment. Instead of promising it will all work out, which you can’t guarantee, promise you will be there to support them along the way.

By starting with safety, options and support, you can build a strong foundation for connecting with a youth impacted by the sex trade. Sadly getting involved is a lot easier than getting out. But you can be a nonjudgmental ally to youth in their journey.

Finally, make sure you have support for yourself after the conversation. Listening to a young person talk about the sex trade can be difficult and bring up a lot of emotions. Find a healthy way to express yourself and get support too.

***

Claudine O’Leary’s most recent project, Rethink Resources, is currently under development.  Here is a list of useful handouts from the project.

Join the conversation.

Questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you about your experiences talking to youth about the impact of the sex trade. The Kids Matter staff is here to support you and the work you do with youth.

 

More Human Trafficking Resources

To Report a Trafficking Tip: 1-888-3737-888 or online http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip

**If you are a youth involved in the sex trade in need of emergency shelter, please go to:

Walkers Point – 732 S 21st Street, Milwaukee, WI for 11-17 year olds
24 hour crisis hotline: 414-647-8200
or
Pathfinders Youth Shelter – 1416 E Kane Place, Milwaukee, WI for 11-17 year olds
Pathfinders Drop-In Center – 4200 N Holton Street, Suite 400 – day use for 11-25 year olds
24 hour hotline for issues of youth sexual violence: 414-271-9523

Note: Foster youth should call a hotline or visit the Pathfinders Drop-In Center to request assistance.  Due to funding restrictions, foster youth may face limitations on stays in emergency shelter.  Other options may be available.

Identity Theft is a Serious Issue Facing Foster Youth

Imagine you are a 17 year old in foster care. It was an uphill battle, but you will successfully graduate from high school. You finally secured a part time job and plan to begin saving for a security deposit on an apartment so that you have some place to stay once you turn 18 and can no longer live in the group home. You have applied to a local college since your plan is to go on to higher education.

Then your student loan application gets rejected, and your new employer tells you she can’t hire you because of bad credit. Your plan crumbles. You have no idea what this means. How can you have several outstanding debts including an auto loan and a mortgage when you’re only 17?

You have been a victim of child identity theft, and you have no idea what to do.

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Children in foster care are the easiest and most vulnerable targets for identity theft. There are many people involved in their lives. Parents, case managers, mentors, foster parents, kinship care providers, and treatment facilities personnel; all these people may have access to the children’s personal information and may be able to use it without anyone noticing. Most foster children do not discover the fraud until they age out of the foster care system. By then, they no longer have legal representation or any other support needed to correct their credit history. The exact number of children who have been victims of identity theft in Wisconsin is not known. However, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, half of the 84,000 children in California’s foster care system have been victims of identity theft and the average debt is over $12,000.

Waiting to resolve identity theft only creates more obstacles to success as foster children age out of the system. Having bad credit can influence the ability of young people to start their lives on the right track. Foster youth victimized by identity theft will suffer from affects on their education, housing, health, and more. Bad credit can prevent youth from being able to rent an apartment, contract for utilities, and apply for financial aid to attend college.

By federal law, each child in foster care who is sixteen or older is entitled to a copy of his or her credit report each year. See 42 U.S.C. § 675(5)I. State agencies are required to provide the credit report without cost to the child. Agencies must also assist the foster care child with reviewing the credit report and address any inaccuracies. Therefore, in Milwaukee, the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW) must provide foster care youths with copies of their credit report. BMCW is also required to help these youth in resolving issues shown on their credit report.

Steps to protect from identity theft:

  • Ensure the credit of a young person in foster care is checked as part of every transition services plan.
  • Tell the young person not to carry their Social Security card and remind them to never give out their Social Security number over the phone or on the internet.
  • Keep any and all financial statements in a safe and private place. If they do not have a safe place to keep their information, like a locked box or storage container, offer to keep their documents for them in a safe and secure place in your office.
  • Instruct them to keep their Personal Information Number (PIN) and password to private accounts private. This includes passwords to e-mail, Facebook, bank statements, and loan accounts.
  • Ask them to always shred all pre-screened offers they receive by mail. If they want to opt out of receiving pre-screened offers, tell them to call 1-800-5-OPT-OUT.
  • Remind them to always shred all sensitive documents. Throwing these papers in the trash is not enough. Their information can be stolen by people looking in the dumpsters.

Not So Black and White Issues in Child Welfare

Part I: Race in Child Welfare 101
By: Jonathan Litt
July 2011

It’s 4:00 a.m. in the middle of winter.

Carl lives in a group home.

Carl wakes up cold and hungry.  It has been two days since the heat was shut off and the staff last fed Carl.  Carl slips out of his bedroom window and begins to run.  An hour later Carl reaches his destination:  his auntie’s home across town.  The police eventually locate Carl, arrest him, and place him in the detention center.  The next morning Carl is returned to the group home without further inquiry.

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Click here for a PDF version

Introduction

It’s 4:00 a.m. in the middle of winter.

Carl lives in a group home.

Carl wakes up cold and hungry.  It has been two days since the heat was shut off and the staff last fed Carl.  Carl slips out of his bedroom window and begins to run.  An hour later Carl reaches his destination:  his auntie’s home across town.  The police eventually locate Carl, arrest him, and place him in the detention center.  The next morning Carl is returned to the group home without further inquiry.

Racial Phenomena in Child Welfare

  • In 2008, Black children made up 14 percent of the nation’s child population but accounted for 31 percent of children in foster care. (1)
  • Families and children of color in child welfare receive fewer and lower quality services  (e.g., foster parent support, mental health, drug treatment) and experience higher placement in detention or correctional facilities. (2)
  • White children are four times more likely to be reunified with their families than Black children. (3)
  • Children of color are about twice as likely to be placed with kin. (4)
  • Black women are more likely than white women to be reported for child abuse when their newborns test positive for drug use. (5)
  • Maltreatment reports to CPS hotlines for families and children of color were more likely to be substantiated than reports for white families and children. (6)

Meanwhile, Martin lives in a group home.  Martin slips out of his bedroom window and begins to run.  Martin reaches his auntie’s home, where the police find him and place him into the back seat of a cruiser.  As the cruiser pulls away from the driveway, the police officer strikes up a conversation with Martin.  Eventually, Martin confides to the police officer that for two days the group home’s heat has been shut off and the staff have not fed him.  The police officer turns the cruiser around and begins to drive Martin back to his auntie’s home.
Fast forward a few months.  Carl still lives in the same group home and has been in and out of detention.  Martin has been reunified with his family.

Carl is Black.  Martin is white.

How are child welfare racial phenomena explained?

There are two categories of racial phenomena in child welfare:  disproportionality and disparity.  Two theories attempt to explain these racial phenomena.  Although both theories share the goal of racial equity, there is a fundamental disagreement on how to achieve racial equity.

Biased Decision-Making Theory
Some argue that racial disproportionality occurs due to the aggregation of discriminatory practices and policies.  These theorists believe that children of color do not experience maltreatment at different rates than whites but are disproportionally represented at key decision-making stages such as investigation and removal.  They argue that reform efforts should focus on the decision-making process to reduce entry and accelerate exits of families and children of color from the child welfare system.

Risk Factors Theory
Some theorists believe that biased decision-making is not the primary cause of racial disproportionality.  Instead, these theorists believe that racial disproportionality reflects differential maltreatment rates among races largely linked to the disproportional rates of child maltreatment risk factors. A parent of color is “neither inherently more likely to abuse or neglect their children nor inherently more likely to be associated with risk factors.” (7)

Rather, the population of families and children of color experience child maltreatment risk factors such as poverty, unemployment, single parenting, substance abuse, and living in an impoverished community at disproportionally higher rates than white families and children. (8)  These theorists advocate for reform efforts focusing on prevention programs and targeting specific disparate practices and policies.  These theorists believe that if reform efforts are only directed at reducing the number of families and children of color in child welfare, then children of color will continue to be disproportionally at-risk for child maltreatment.

What recent developments are shaping reform?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the congressionally mandated National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-2 & NIS-3) studies reported that differences among maltreatment rates between races were statistically insignificant. (9)  The NIS-3 findings indicated that “different races receive[d] differential attention somewhere during the process of referral, investigation, and service allocation.” (10)  Biased Decision-Making theorists used these studies to support their reform efforts because the findings suggest bias exists at key decision-making stages.

Disproportionality

Disproportionality is the percentage of a group’s population within a system relative to the percentage of a group’s population within the general population
(i.e., over- or underrepresentation).

Disparity

Disparity is the unequal treatment of a minority population relative to a majority population within a system
(i.e., discrimination).

Racial Equity

In the context of child welfare, racial equity is achieved when reporting, investigation, removal, permanency, and access and quality of child welfare services are not predicted by race or ethnicity.

In March 2010, the NIS-4 study found African American children experience maltreatment at higher rates than white children. (11) The authors explain that NIS-4 found the statistically significant racial difference for two reasons: (1) “the incomes of Black families have not kept pace with the incomes of white families” since the NIS-3 and (2) the NIS-4 had larger samples. (12)  The authors cautioned that the NIS-4 measure for socioeconomic status “was less than ideal.”(13)  The authors reported that “the NIS-4 sampled more counties and more CPS and sentinel agencies than the NIS-3 and collected considerably more data forms.”(14)  These findings have impacted the discussion on racial equity theory and reform.

In January 2011, many national child welfare leaders attended the Race & Child Welfare: Re-Assessing the Facts, Re-Thinking the Policy Options conference co-sponsored by Harvard Law School’s Child Advocacy Program and Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.  During the conference, evidence was presented showing that previous NIS studies were insufficiently precise to show a statistically significant difference among maltreatment rates between races.(15)

Additionally, empirical research was “presented indicating that Black children suffer worse outcomes from maltreatment (e.g., higher rates of death following child abuse, higher rates of death following traumatic brain injury, and higher rates of mortality among those referred to child welfare).”(16)  Some conference attendees concluded that “bias may well exist in pockets of the system, operating in ways that lead Black children to be either over- or underserved,” but there is “no evidence that initiatives that emphasize reducing the high representation of Black children will provide a path to more equitable services.”(17)  Although these recent studies provide substantial evidence supporting Risk Factor Theory, child welfare professionals disagree on how to address risk factors.  This disagreement will be further explored in Part II of this series.

Racial Disproportionality in Wisconsin’s Child Welfare

  • In 2008, African American children represented 8% of children in Wisconsin but 54% of children in foster care.(18)
  • Consistent with national trends, African American children were disproportionally represented at the investigation and removal stages.(19)
  • Relative to other states, racial disproportionality in Wisconsin’s child welfare system ranked second highest for African American children and 12th highest for American Indian children.(20)

How has Wisconsin begun to address racial disproportionality in its child welfare system?

In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) Secretary’s Advisory Council on Child Welfare established a racial disproportionality subcommittee to inform the Council on racial phenomena in Wisconsin’s child welfare system so that the Council could offer recommendations to DCF.  Council members include representatives from key Wisconsin child welfare service providers, government agencies, and non-profits.  During the past year, racial disproportionality subcommittee members reviewed research and presented their recommendations to the Council.
Subsequently, the Council has advised DCF to focus on developing prevention and early intervention programming to address risk factors.  Moreover, the Council recommended establishing commitment from public and private sector leadership and fostering community partnerships and regional workshops with child welfare professionals.  In addition, the Council has initiated further data analysis regarding county level disproportionality and ethnic disproportionality.

Conclusion

Two categories of racial phenomena exist in the child welfare system: (1) disproportionality and (2) disparity.  Research has overwhelmingly shown that children of color are disproportionally represented in the child welfare system.(21)  Recent studies have shown that racial disproportionality may reflect different maltreatment rates among races because families and children of color experience maltreatment risk factors disproportionally.  Other studies have shown evidence of discrete racial disparities in child welfare.  As a result, families and children of color experience the child welfare system differently than whites.

These racial phenomena provide a starting point for child welfare racial equity reform.  However, child welfare reform is not sufficient to overcome community-level maltreatment risk factors (22) such as high concentrations of poverty, crime rates, and female-headed households.(23)  Therefore, racial equity reform in child welfare requires a broad look at child welfare’s impact on the community level.

Part II of this series will explore the role of communities in child maltreatment and the relationship between racial phenemona and communities in child welfare.  Part III will identify promising practices to achieve racial equity in child welfare.

References:

1 Child Welfare Information Gateway, Addressing Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, Children’s Bureau, 3 (Jan. 2011), available at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issues_briefs/racial_disproportionality.

2 Robert B. Hill, Synthesis of Research on Disproportionality in Child Welfare: An Update, Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in the Child Welfare System, 28 (October 2006), available at http://www.cssp.org/.

3 Hill, supra note 2, at 24.

4 Hill, supra note 2, at 29.

5 Hill, supra note 2, at 18.

6 Hill, supra note 2, at 21.

7 Elizabeth Bartholet, The Racial Disproportionality Movement in Child Welfare: False Facts and Dangerous Directions, 51 Ariz. L. Rev. 871, 877 (2009).

8 Id. at 900.

9 Elizabeth Bartholet, Fred Wulczyn, Richard P. Barth, Cindy Lederman, Race and Child Welfare, Chapin Hall University of Chicago, 3 (2011),  available at http://www.chapinhall.org/research/brief/race-and-child-welfare.

10 Bartholet et al., supra note 9,(quoting Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Executive Summary of the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, Westat prepared for for U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, available athttp://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/statsinfo/nis3.cfm#child.

11 Andrea J. Sedlak, Karla McPherson, & Barnali Das, Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse & Neglect (NIS-4): Executive Summary of Supplementary Analyses of Race Differences in Child Maltreatment Rates in the NIS-4, Westat prepared for U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, 1 (March 2010), available at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/abuse_neglect/natl_incid/index.html.

12 Sedlak et al., supra note 11, at 1, 4.

13 Sedlak et al., supra note 11, at 2.

14 Sedlak et al., supra note 11, at 5.

15 Bartholet et al., supra note 9.

16 Bartholet et al., supra note 9.

17 Bartholet et al., supra note 9, at 4.

18Alison Bowman, Laura Hofer, Collin O’Rourke, & Lindsay Read, Racial Disproportionality in Wisconsin’s Child Welfare System, University of Wisconsin La Follete School of Public Affairs prepared for WI Dept. of Children & Families, xi (May 12, 2009), available at http://www.lafollette.wisc.edu/publications/workshops/2009/index.html.

19 Bowman et al., supra note 17, at 1.

20 Bowman et al., supra note 17, at 1.

21 Hill, supra note 2.

22 Dorothy E. Roberts, The Community Dimension of State Child Protection, 34 Hofstra L. Rev. 23, 28 (2005).

23 Hill, supra note 2,at 26.


In May 2011, Jonathan Litt joined Kids Matter Inc. as a law intern.  Mr. Litt is currently pursing a law degree and plans to seek a graduate degree in community practice social work. Mr. Litt graduated from Michigan State University with bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Psychology. Prior to law school, Mr. Litt worked as a youth advocate and research assistant in the Lansing, MI juvenile and truancy courts.  Upon completion of his graduate studies, Mr. Litt aspires to join the frontline of child welfare and juvenile justice policy reform.

Not So Black and White Issues in Child Welfare – Part 2

Part II: Communities and Race in Child Welfare
By: Jonathan Litt
July 2011

It’s early twentieth century Chicago.
Neighborhoods experiencing high reports of maltreatment are predominately occupied by European immigrants.
Fast forward a hundred years…

Today the same neighborhoods continue to experience high reports of maltreatment but are now predominately occupied by African Americans. (1)

Racial geographic phenomena in child welfare are not limited to Chicago.  In 1997, 1 in 10 children in Central Harlem, New York had been placed in foster care. (2) Some child welfare leaders explain that racial geographic phenomena in child welfare occur because poor families and families and children of color live in “disadvantaged communities” at disproportionally higher rates.  Many studies have shown that the impact of race on maltreatment rates is significantly reduced when community risk factors such as poverty are controlled.

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Summary of Part I: Race in Child Welfare 101

Racial Phenomena Chategories:

Disproportionality

Disproportionality is the percentage of a group’s population within a system relative to the percentage of a group’s population within the general population
(i.e., over- or underrepresentation).

Disparity

Disparity is the unequal treatment of a minority population relative to a majority population within a system
(i.e., discrimination).

Theoretical Explanations:

Biased Decision-Making theorists believe that racial disproportionality occurs due to the aggregation of discriminatory practices and policies.

Risk Factors theorists believe that racial disproportionality reflects differential maltreatment rates among races largely linked to the disproportional rates of child maltreatment risk factors.

Current Trends & Research

  • Research has overwhelmingly shown children of color are disproportionally represented in the child welfare system.
  • Recent studies have shown different maltreatment rates among races because families and children of color experience maltreatment risk factors at disproportionally higher rates.
  • Other studies have shown evidence of discrete racial disparities in child welfare

These findings suggest that services, practices, and policies aimed at neighborhood conditions can also affect racial phenomena in child welfare. Some child welfare leaders have based their racial equity reform strategy on this community principle. When applied to a community, this strategy requires two parts:  (1) identify the conditions in the neighborhood that affect child maltreatment and (2) deliver services and programs directed at these neighborhood conditions.

How do neighborhood conditions impact child maltreatment?

Generally, high concentrations of neighborhood conditions such as poverty, crime, increased child care burden, vacant housing, overcrowding, bars and stores selling alcohol, unemployment, and residential instability are positively associated with high child maltreatment rates. (1) However, the effects of neighborhood conditions vary depending on the type of maltreatment.

Adverse neighborhood conditions correlate with child neglect more than physical or sexual abuse.  Specifically, poverty has the strongest association with neglect, “somewhat less for physical abuse, and moderate for sexual abuse.” (2)  In addition, housing conditions such as overcrowding and residential instability have stronger associations with neglect than abuse. (3)  The density of stores selling alcohol is positively associated with physical abuse rates, while the density of bars is significantly associated with neglect.” (4)  These findings suggest that neighborhood conditions can increase maltreatment rates.

Not surprisingly, neighborhood conditions can also decrease maltreatment rates.  The effect of poverty on maltreatment is weaker in communities where neighbors know each other and are more likely to support each other’s parenting. (5)

Neighborhood conditions can promote children’s resiliency against maltreatment, too.  A 2010 public health study found that a caregiver’s perception of a neighborhood support system moderated aggressive behaviors in twelve-year old children who had experienced neglect; however, it did not find the same effect for the children who had experienced physical abuse. (6)

How do neighborhood conditions impact racial disparity in child welfare?
A recent University of Chicago Chapin Hall study suggests that neighborhood conditions such as poverty impact children of color differently than white children. (7)   Research indicates that  higher poverty rates for white children were strongly associated with higher reported white child maltreatment; however, higher poverty rates of Black children were not associated with higher reports of Black child maltreatment. (8)  Instead, higher poverty rates of Black children were associated with lower reports of Black child maltreatment. (9)

The difference between reported child maltreatment among races was greatest in counties with lower poverty rates. In other words, white child maltreatment may be more likely to be reported in high poverty communities while Black child maltreatment may be more likely to be reported in low poverty communities.  Research has not explained why poverty has different effects among races – the study’s author concludes that more research is needed. (10) Click here to read the Chapin Hall study.

How should neighborhoods and child welfare work together?
Most child welfare leaders agree that child welfare reform is not sufficient to overcome neighborhood conditions such as poverty, crime, and unemployment. Although most child welfare leaders recognize that neighborhood conditions affect child maltreatment, they disagree on how child welfare should deliver programs and services partly because they value the impact of neighborhood conditions differently.

Intense Agency Involvement

Some child welfare leaders, such as Harvard’s Elizabeth Bartholet, advocate increasing agency surveillance and decreasing barriers to removal in high poverty areas.  These leaders believe that CPS should intensely monitor children’s safety and parents’ compliance with court ordered programs and services.  Proponents of intense agency involvement focus on neighborhood conditions that increase child maltreatment rates and are skeptical that reunification can be achieved when these neighborhood conditions persist.  If the child is reunified with the parent(s), they believe that the child welfare agency should provide follow-up services.

To facilitate intense agency surveillance, Bartholet argues that barriers to removal should be reduced.  She and other policy leaders believe that accelerating termination of parental rights and removal would enable CPS to direct more resources to surveillance and prevention programs such as mandatory in-home nurse visits beginning at the prenatal period through preschool.  This approach is also aimed at reducing the amount of time Black children remain in foster care because studies show that Black children remain in foster care longer than white children.  Prolonged stays in foster care can have negative consequences for the child in the future such as educational deficiencies, higher incarceration rates, higher rates of single-motherhood and high unemployment.  Proponents of intense agency involvement believe that deferring court involvement of families identified as low risk for serious maltreatment will have limited impact on reducing the number of families in child welfare because they believe most child welfare cases involve very serious maltreatment.

Community Risk Factors for Child Maltreatment:

Studies have shown that high concentrations of the following neighborhood conditions are positively associated with high child maltreatment rates.

  • Poverty
  • Crime
  • Increased Child Care Burden
  • Vacant Housing
  • Overcrowding
  • Bars and Stores Selling Alcohol
  • Unemployment
  • Residential Instability

Differential Response System

Northwestern’s Dorothy Roberts and other child welfare leaders advocate for a differential response to child maltreatment. In a differential response system, a family is assessed and identified as high, moderate, or low risk for serious maltreatment. Families identified as high risk enter the traditional court process — the children are either already removed or removal is imminent. Families identified as moderate/low risk are referred to voluntary services or informal court proceedings where they agree to participate in programs and services directed at their specific needs.

Differential response advocates like Roberts value neighborhood conditions that decrease maltreatment rates such as informal neighborhood support networks.  They argue that intense agency involvement in communities has negative consequences on informal neighborhood support networks. A preliminary study in Chicago found that residents reported that intense agency involvement in their neighborhoods had profound effects on social relationships including interference with parental authority, damage to children’s ability to form social relationships, and distrust among neighbors.(11)  These findings suggest that intense agency involvement may hinder a community’s ability to build informal neighborhood support networks. Consequently, community members come to rely on intense agency involvement for needed support.(12)   Differential response advocates argue that a differential response system is a more effective and efficient delivery approach because it limits the negative consequences of intense agency involvement and prevents unnecessary removals.

Historically, the prevalence of risk factors and high maltreatment rates were used as an excuse to increase removal rates in American Indian and African American communities.  Differential response advocates are concerned that families and children of color living in impoverished communities are at high risk for discrimination and unnecessary removals.  A University of Michigan study found that people living in impoverished communities are more vulnerable to unfair treatment perhaps because they have reduced access to problem-solving resources.13  Relying on such data, Roberts and her colleagues argue that a differential response system is more objective and protects against discrimination because it identifies families according to risk of serious maltreatment.

How will the redesigned Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare deliver services and programs?

In July 2011, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) issued two Requests for Proposals to implement a redesign of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare (BMCW).  The redesign incorporates a differential response system authorized by recent legislation.  Under the redesigned system, families at risk for imminent removal can be deferred from formal court procedures and instead receive Intensive In-Home Services (IIHS) while the child remains in the home.  These services will include teaching problem-solving skills to family members and connecting families to formal and informal community supports. To receive IIHS services, a family must either (1) initiate contact with BMCW or (2) enter a formal agreement with BMCW and District Attorney when the court has jurisdiction and the District Attorney referred the case to informal disposition.

For IIHS to be effective, families must embrace participation.  Families may hesitate to initiate contact with BMCW to request IIHS because they fear that they may not receive IIHS and instead their child would be removed.  IIHS could be underutilized if the District Attorney’s Office does not consistently refer low/moderate risk families to informal disposition rather than the formal Child in Need of Protection and Services (CHIPS) process.  Once a family agrees to IIHS, the family is considered an equal participant in the service planning process.  If the family does not cooperate with IIHS, removal of the child(ren), referral to Children’s Court and criminal prosecution for maltreatment remain as responses. The threat of prosecution and removal may create an incentive for families to fully cooperate.   On the other hand, families and community members could become less willing to share information with IIHS providers when they believe the information could be misunderstood and used to facilitate removal.  IIHS providers should be mindful of the program’s goal when sharing information with BMCW.  Ideally, IIHS providers should cultivate trust with communities by communicating to families its goal to prevent unnecessary removals as well as providing effective, timely services.  Without an open exchange of information with families and their communities, IIHS providers could struggle to provide the most effective services for families.

The success of differential response in Milwaukee County will depend upon the District Attorney’s use of discretion in deferring CHIPS proceedings in low/moderate risk cases and effective trust-building in the community by BMCW and its contracted IIHS providers.  If the institutional partners and families collaborate effectively, the differential response model can birth a truly community-based child welfare system; if not, the BMCW redesign might function more like an intense agency involvement model rather than a differential response system.

Conclusion

Child welfare is often viewed as an individual matter regarding a single family in isolation.  Judges are required to answer one legal question: what is in the best interests of this child?   Case managers are charged with delivering services and placement of each individual child.  Policy makers and the public hear about emotionally charged cases.  While this occurs, neighborhood conditions affecting individual families are also impacting child maltreatment patterns and racial phenomena in child welfare generally.

Neighborhood conditions indisputably affect maltreatment rates.  However, it is critical to remember that the positive or negative effect of the same neighborhood characteristic can differ depending upon the type of maltreatment and the racial identity of the neighborhood.  In this way, neighborhood issues that generally affect child welfare can still affect families and children of color disproportionally.  Hospital and community health center locations, residential zoning ordinances regarding vacant housing or occupancy limits, liquor licensing patterns in neighborhoods, employment services, unemployment benefits, the existence of neighborhood coalitions and community organizing groups, distribution of community block grants, and the child welfare service delivery system may be among conditions that affect children of color disproportionately.

As policymakers, child welfare professionals, and community members we all should think critically about how decisions regarding neighborhood development and safety can impact child maltreatment and racial phenomena in child welfare.  When evaluating these issues we must remember the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child.” We must ask, are our community development efforts empowering or harming our village and families who are raising children?

References:

Introduction

1. Robert B. Hill, Synthesis of Research on Disproportionality in Child Welfare: An Update, Casey-CSSP Alliance for Racial Equity in the Child Welfare System, 28 (October 2006), available online. (citing M. Testa and F. Furstenberg , “Social ecology of child development”, Century of Juvenile Justice, ed. M.
Rosenheim (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 237-264.

2. Dorothy Roberts, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (New York:  Basic Civitas Books, 2002), 240.

3. Elizabeth Bartholet, The Racial Disproportionality Movement in Child Welfare: False Facts and Dangerous Directions, 51 Ariz. L. Rev. 871, 918-19 (2009), available free at http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/bartholet/RD_AZ_Final.pdf.

PAGE 2

1. C. Coulton, D.Crampton, M. Irwin, J. Spilsbury and J. Korbin, How neighborhoods influence child maltreatment: A review of the literature and alternative pathways, Child Abuse & Neglect 31 (2007), 1117-1142 at 1132.

2. Coulton et al., 1133.

3. Coulton et al., 1133-1134.

4. Coulton et al., 1133.

5. Coulton et al., 1133.

6. M.Yonas, T. Lewis, J. Hussey, R. Thompson, R. Newton, D. English and H. Dubowitz, Perceptions of Neighborhood Collective Efficacy Moderate the Impact of Maltreatment of Aggression, Child Maltreatment 15:1 (Feb. 2010), 37-47 at 37.

7. F. Wulczyn, Research Is Action: Disparity, Poverty, and the Need for New Knowledge (Chicago: Chapin Hall at the
University of Chicago, 2011)

8. Wulczyn, 5.

9. Wulczyn, 5.

10. Wulczyn, 13-14.

11. Dorothy Roberts, The Racial Geography of Child Welfare: Toward a New Research Paradigm, Child Welfare 87:2 (2009), 125-150 at 125.

12. Roberts, Racial Geography of Child Welfare at 125.

13. Roberts, Shattered Bonds at 241.


Jonathan Litt joined Kids Matter Inc. as a law intern from May-August 2011.  Mr. Litt is currently pursing a law degree and plans to seek a graduate degree in community practice social work. Mr. Litt graduated from Michigan State University with bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Psychology. Prior to law school, Mr. Litt worked as a youth advocate and research assistant in the Lansing, MI juvenile and truancy courts.  Upon completion of his graduate studies, Mr. Litt aspires to join the frontline of child welfare and juvenile justice policy reform.

The Many Faces of Facebook

By: Kristy Shew

Social networking.  Connecting with friends.  Status updates.  Event planning.  Up-to-date, current information about anyone and everyone. 

Welcome to the world of Facebook.

This online networking site has everyone captivated-especially teenagers.  While many adults now have their own Facebook profiles, the site still primarily targets youth.  With the ability to post thoughts, pictures, and any information on a profile, Facebook instantly gives many people access to others’ lives.  Though privacy settings allow a user to limit what kinds of information are available to just anyone, the importance of privacy is a hard sell to many youth today.

Take Amanda,* for example.  Amanda is a CASA youth who, like most other teenagers, loves to use Facebook.  She loves to talk to interesting new people that she would not otherwise meet, stay constantly connected to friends, and let everybody know what she is thinking or doing.  What about privacy settings?  “Why do I need them?” she would ask. 

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Those stories about youth who befriend strangers on a social networking site, make plans to meet them, and then get kidnapped seem rare and distant to most teens who laugh at the concept of having high privacy settings on Facebook.  Many people are never confronted with real danger, so the idea that something could happen to them seems ridiculous.

Frown

The Good

Because so many people use Facebook to reconnect with old friends or even family they never knew existed, high privacy settings may just seem limiting.  Amanda’s father was paying child support from another state and had not had contact with her for years.  Because of the distance and the difficulties connecting out-of-state relatives with youth in foster care, Amanda’s father was not aware of her situation.

Through Facebook, Amanda was able to re-connect with her biological father.  Facebook allows users to search other Facebook profiles, and though the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare was unable to connect Amanda and her father, Facebook was.  When he found out what was going on, Amanda’s father made sure to not to lose contact with her again.  Amanda has now aged out of foster care and is living with her father.  She is close with family that she never knew before.

SmileThe Bad

Amanda entered foster care at age 14 after enduring years of sexual abuse by her stepfather and mother, who fled the state after Amanda reported the abuse.  She thought she had left that part of her life behind until recently, when her stepfather contacted her on Facebook.  He left her messages saying things like, “I’ve been watching you,” and he repeatedly sent her disturbing messages that made her feel unsafe.  Amanda was understandably upset, reported the contact, and immediately took all of the steps that she could to block further contact from her stepfather.  Facebook allows you to block other users from seeing your profile and activity, sending you messages, and contacting you in any way.  Amanda took all of those steps.

Amanda is now a big fan of the strict privacy settings she once scoffed at.  She knows that being safe and smart about what she posts online and makes available for others to see is more important than she had ever before realized.  “You can’t just trust that people are who they say they are online,” she says.  Although Amanda is still is a fan of Facebook, her experiences with both the positive  and the negative connections that Facebook enables has made her encourage other youth to be more careful online.

Practice Tips:

If you are working with teenagers or adolescents, chances are, you know a lot of very frequent Facebook users.  For those in your circle who spend a lot of time on Facebook, here are some questions you can ask that may start a helpful conversation to get them thinking about the importance of online safety and privacy settings:

  • What are your privacy settings and how do you use them?  Privacy settings allow Facebook users to control who can see what information on their profiles.  Ask youth about what kind of privacy settings they have and how they find them effective or ineffective.
  • Do you really know your Facebook friends?  Many youth “friend” other Facebook users that they do not actually know.  Do not assume that what these “friends” say is true, and do not take their profile information at face value.  On Facebook, the line between who is a stranger and who isn’t blurs with labels like “friends” and “friends of friends.”
  • Do you have your phone number listed on your Facebook profile where others can see it?  This can get into dangerous territory.  Posting your phone number can allow people to text or call you that you do not know, and it can even escalate to a cyberbullying situation.
  • Do you post information about your location, including sports schedules, school activities, and other trips you may take?  It is not a good idea to publicly post information that tells other people where you are or where you are going.
  • What kinds of pictures (if any) do you post on Facebook?  If you do upload pictures online, be very careful about what kind of messages your pictures may send to others.  Especially for girls, pictures that look provocative may attract unwanted attention from other Facebook users.

Asking questions and talking about the importance of privacy settings can only help.  Kids will be kids, but the more informed they are about what can happen if they are not safe online, the more prepared they will be to deal with issues that may come.

Coming Soon:  A review of “Internet Safety 101,” a DVD resource by Enough is Enough, available at Kids Matter.

If this information is new to you, overwhelming to you, or if you have any questions about online safety and Facebook, please contact Megan at Kids Matter (414-344-1220).  She will gladly speak with or meet with volunteers to help them learn how to navigate Facebook and talk to youth about online safety.

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