Part Three: Racial Disproportionality within the Child Welfare System

adoption in minnesota

Addressing Racial Disporportionality within the Child Welfare System: Where We Have Been and Where We Are Headed

Part Three: Racial Disproportionality within the Child Welfare System.
Children of color are reported for maltreatment, removed from their parents, and placed in foster care at higher rates than their white counterparts and as compared to their respective percentages in the general population (Bartholet). Further, children of color also spend longer periods of time in foster care than white children, are reunited with their parents at lower rates, and move on to adoption at slower rates (Bartholet). While research shows that children of color exit foster care by adoption at relatively high rates, the adoption exit takes longer than the reunification exit (Bartholet).

In the end, although children of color make up 13.8% of the total child population, 24.3% of children of color are represented in the foster care system. This problem is critical as it negatively impacts children
of color, families of color, communities of color, and society as a whole. These impacts extend to every aspect of society, including education, employment, criminal justice, and the overall perpetuation of the issue of child abuse and child neglect. In many ways, in order to impact rates of child abuse and neglect we must first address the underlying issues of inequity and inequality.

We’ve seen attempts to address the discussed disparities within the child welfare system through policy efforts. The Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 was aimed at removing barriers to permanency within the child protection system, especially for African American and other children of color; who are disproportionately represented in out of home placement and who wait longer than their white counterparts for permanent homes.

MEPA attempted to decrease the length of time that children wait to be adopted or reach “permanency”, increase sustainable recruitment and retention of foster and adoptive parents that can meet the unique needs of the children within care, and dismantle discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the child and prospective foster/adoptive
parent (Hollinger, 1997).

While the intentions of MEPA may have been positive, there have been and continue to be various responses to the idea of transracial parenting and/or adoption. Federal officials suggest that MEPA’s primary focus is on “achieving timely permanent placements” and the race of the child and the parents/caregivers should not matter as long as children are provided permanency (Herring). It is clear, however; that MEPA did not in fact address the continuous reality of black and brown children being disproportionately represented within the system and awaiting permanency for much longer periods of time than that of their white counterparts. In that way, critics suggest that MEPA simply perpetuates colorblindness and ignores the importance and value of culture and identity (Herring).

In the past, “the National Association of Black Social Worker has characterized this as cultural genocide (Herring, 2007).” Transracial adoption and the implications of MEPA continue to be an ongoing debate and both call into question the potential harm of transracial adoption, the loss of cultural identity, and the impact of transracial adoption on self-esteem. All in all, does transracial adoption do more harm than good and does it perpetuate racism or attempt to dismantle it?

More recently, the Minnesota African American Preservation Act was introduced in 2018. The MN African American Preservation Act aims to “protect the best interests of African American children and promote the stability and security of African American families by establishing minimum standards to prevent arbitrary and unnecessary removal of African American children from their families (Insight News, 2019).” The authors of this legislation within the MN State Senate include, Senator Hayden, Champion, Isaacson, Dziedzic, and Hawj. In the MN House of Representatives, the authors are Representative Moran, Hassan, Vang, Liebling, Lippert, Kunesh-Podein, Olson, Schultz, Bahner, Mann, Morrison, Dehn, Lee, Fischer, Freiberg, Bierman, Cantrell, and Halverson.

“If enacted, the MN African American Family Preservation Act would work to address disparities at every decision point while providing oversight and accountability to the child protection workforce through the creation of an
African American Child Welfare Advisory Council and an African American child well-being department within the Department of Human Services (Insight News, 2019).” Overall, the MN African American Family Preservation Act seeks to address the disparities and wrongful removal of Black children from their families. This legislation aims to keep African American families together.

Author, McKenzie McMillan
McKenzie is a student in the MSW program, Graduate Assistant at CASCW, and a Child Welfare Professional.


Bartholet, E. (2009). The racial disproportionality movement in child welfare: False facts and dangerous directions. Ariz. L. Rev., 51, 871.

Herring, D. J. (2007). The Multiethnic Placement Act: Threat to Foster Child Safety and Well-being. U. Mich. JL Reform, 41, 89.

Hollinger-Heifetz, Joan. (1997). Overview of the multiethnic placement act (MEPA). Retrieved from

Insight News. Hayden, Moran introduce Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act. 2019. Accessed from american-family-preservation-act/article_98031bf6-339d-11e9-8801- ab87e7aa67dc.html

Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act. (2018). HF 342, SF730, 91st Legislature.

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