African American children are overrepresented in foster care

As we honor Black History Month, I recall visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture a few years ago. I vividly remember my feelings of grief as I walked through the museum, viewing pictures, artifacts, sculptures, and numerous writings about slavery and the horrific traumas African Americans suffered during that period. As I journeyed through the museum, I came across the following:

“In Search of Family”

“African Americans never forgot the family members they lost to the slave trade. People wrote for word of their relatives or found someone to write for them. They looked for daughters, sons, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, and long-lost kin. Even as they formed new families, they longed for lost loved ones. By placing ads, writing letters, and asking travelers, people continued to search for their families into the 20th century.”

(John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture)

This resonated deeply in my spirit as I thought about my work with children and families over the last 18 years – because even today African American children in our child welfare system long for their lost loved ones. African American children are overrepresented in our foster care system. According to, African American children represent 14 percent of the total child population in the United States, and they represent 23 percent of all children in foster care. Racial discrimination is the most reported factor associated with this overrepresentation.

The United States 13th Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. Today, African Americans still experience the residual impact of slavery. African Americans experience higher rates of poverty and are generally less financially secure compared to other Americans. Prejudice, while less overt than in decades past, is still a barrier to the economic and social well-being of African Americans. (MJ Halloran.2019)

Together we can ensure the founding promises of America (freedom, equality, and justice for all) mentioned in Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” by learning, acting, supporting, and understanding who we are and how we impact our society. My challenge to readers this month is to understand your own biases, understand the meaning of microaggression, and the role each of us plays in diversity, equity, and inclusion.

When we understand who we are, we can effectively work together and use the power of our knowledge to mold and reshape our communities and systems to serve children and families more efficiently and successfully.

Valerie Leon is a Regional Vice President with Saint Francis Ministries and has worked in child welfare for 18 years, all with SFM.

Picture of Shane Schneider
Shane Schneider

Shane is the Editorial Content Manager for the Marketing and Communications Department at Saint Francis Ministries.

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