March 2021

Activists call for change after ODJFS report shows racial disparity in foster system

Courtesy of WCMH/NBC 4
By Jennifer Jackson
March 17, 2021

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is working to better identify instances of racial bias.

After a recent report showed that Black youth make up 14 percent of Ohio’s population, yet 36 percent of the Ohio foster care population.

Youth of mixed-race households comprise 4 percent of Ohio’s population, and yet 8 percent of the Ohio foster care population.

“These are disparities that you can no longer ignore, and so those people and advocates who have been on the front lines talking about this for years, now are getting an audience,” said Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League.

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Hightower runs the Columbus Urban League, a non-profit group that promotes equal and equitable access to resources for people of color.

She says due to COVID-19, racial disparities within the foster care system have been exacerbated.

The ODJFS report is showing the same, due to a lack of input from voices of Black and brown youth within the system.

“We know now, that especially foster children, there’s a large percentage of them that end up either homeless, they end up either with mental health issues, or substance abuse issues, or incarcerated,” Hightower said.

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Another issue that’s been identified in the report is the lack of training for both foster parents and caseworkers in recognizing racial bias, a problem Hightower said needs to be addressed.

“We then have to make sure that folks are trained, and they understand, they have to have racial bias training,” she said. “Their hearts may be in the right place, we know that they mean well, but if you don’t understand where these Black kids are coming from and their lived experiences, then you’re probably doing them a disservice.”

As part of its effort to address the disparity, ODJFS said it will include the voices of minority children and families in all planning and policy decision-making going forward.

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