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Despite vast improvements in the city’s child welfare system, children of color are still overrepresented among those in foster care. That concept was at the core of “The Racial Geography of the Child Welfare System,” a conference hosted by Fordham University last week. Non-white children made up 40 percent of children but accounted for approximately 61 percent of children in foster care, according to 2003 statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ten years ago, only three percent of New York City’s 43,000 foster children were white. While the number of children in care has plummeted to 17,000 since then, the racial disparity has barely changed: Roughly four percent of the caseload is white, according to Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). “Children of color grow up in neighborhoods with great government supervision on families,” said Dorothy Roberts, author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare and a visiting professor at Fordham, where she helped organize the conference. “Intensive regulations seem to punish rather than help.” The death of Nixzmary Brown has only exacerbated that problem, panelists explained, by increasing suspicion of child abuse within communities. “Parents do not feel safe to seek help, they feel scrutinized, very isolated and stressed,” said Jenny Crawford, supervising social worker at Bronx Defenders, a legal services group. “So the community disintegrates and trust is lost.” Later in the day, talk turned to positive solutions such as encouraging parents to become more involved in neighborhood activities and training social workers to establish better relationships with clients. Earlier this year, ACS launched the Community Partnership Program, which links the agency to local care providers. The agency has also boosted its cultural competence training, according to press secretary Sheila Stainback. “Even when your clients are from your own cultural background,” she said, “it is important to be aware of your biases and feelings.” (K. Angelova) [05/01/06]

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