BUSSW Researchers Make the Case for Involving Race and Religion in Child Welfare Policy and Practice

Family praying in church
April 22, 2019

An intersectional analysis of America’s child welfare system is raising new questions about how race and religion have been ignored and used problematically throughout history and contemporary practice. The analysis, conducted by two BU School of Social Work researchers, focused on the experiences of Black and Christian foster care youths, who as a group face disparities in child welfare and are more likely to be in long-term care.

The study’s co-authors, Mary E. Collins, PhD, and Judith C. Scott, PhD, posit that positive affirmation of both racial and religious identity is critical to youth in foster care placements, helping them develop stable identities and social ties in adolescence. Children of color make up more than half of all foster children in the U.S., and studies have found that 95% of foster children believe that a God exists. Collins and Scott argue that neglecting the racial and religious aspects of these children’s identities is causing long-term harm.

“There is still much to learn in this area,” Collins says. “While there has been a fair amount of research attention to the role of race in child welfare, there has been minimal attention to religion and its intersectionality with race. Both are core elements of the identity of many young people – in foster care and outside of foster care.”    

Can children still be successfully placed with families of a different race or religion? Yes, researchers say. But efforts must be made to train foster parents accordingly and to seek out community members and organizations that can provide appropriate cultural connections for the foster youth. Researchers also urged child welfare agencies to change their approach to race and religion by increasing outreach to faith groups and churches that can identify critical resources, including potential foster parents, mentorship opportunities, and access to other affirming groups in the community.   

Religion is fast becoming a divisive issue in the U.S.,” Collins notes. “Thus, there is need for great caution that attention to religious identity does not become a mechanism for discrimination.”

The analysis was published in Children and Youth Services Review under the title, “Intersection of Race and Religion for Youth in Foster Care: Examining Policy and Practice.”