New Report Shows COVID-19 Pandemic Made Child Welfare System Worse for Black Children and Families

April 14, 2021

Grand Rapids, Michigan — Bethany Christian Services today released a report about child welfare trends during the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily showing that outcomes for Black and multiracial children worsened. Compared to the pre-COVID time frame, Bethany’s foster care programs saw unsettling changes in foster care intake, discharge rates, lengths of stay and outcomes.

Specifically, the report summarized a review of child welfare cases from Bethany foster care programs in four cities – Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit and Grand Rapids. This study, sponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, analyzed quantitative data by comparing foster home and client intake and outcome trends before and during COVID-19 (March 1 through October 31 of 2019 and 2020, respectively).

The trends seen in Bethany’s programs were consistent with national predictions that foster care entry would decrease during the pandemic and that children of color in foster care – already disproportionately represented in the child welfare system – would fare even worse during this challenging season. Key findings also revealed:

  1. While 21% fewer children entered Bethany’s foster care programs during the pandemic, 12% fewer children exited compared to 2019. In addition, there was a 24% increase in length of stay, showing children’s path to permanency significantly slowed during COVID-19. Black children had the lowest reunification rates with their biological parents. Bethany also saw a nine-percent decrease in the number of Black children leaving foster care between 2019 and 2020, and their length of stay in foster care increased by 37%.

  2. Disaggregated by race, Bethany’s statistics reveal trends of over-representation of and disparate discharge outcomes for children who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color in foster care. Nationwide, 23% percent of kids in foster care were Black, although Black children make up only 13% of the overall child population. In Bethany’s study, 32% of the children in its foster care programs were Black.

“Like many areas in society, the pandemic exposed problems in our child welfare system and this study clearly shows it,” says Cheri Williams, Bethany’s Senior Vice President of Domestic Programs. “At Bethany, we’re committed to working with people of faith, elected officials, and the child welfare community to pursue reforms and best practices that do a better job of keeping families together.”

“What Bethany Christian Services has done here, by disaggregating their data by race for the first time across their organization, is key to charting a course that leads to brighter futures for children and families who are experiencing foster care,” says Rodney Brittingham, associate director with the Casey Foundation’s Family Well-Being Strategy Group. “When you call out the disparities children and families of color experience, you can begin developing targeted strategies and practices that eliminate the barriers they face.”

The report also found that creative uses of technology supported Bethany’s ability to stay closely connected and to deploy tangible resources to both staff and clients during a time of crisis. By increasing the frequency of communication with stakeholders, Bethany found that foster families and birth families were better able to connect and support each other. In addition, virtual communication platforms allowed children in foster care to connect with their biological family more easily.

In response to the report’s findings, Bethany recommends the following solutions for the U.S. child welfare system:

  1. Governments at all levels should aim to reduce the barriers to permanency that children face by supporting families before a child is removed from home and increasing efforts to reunify children with their families.

  2. Child welfare agencies should update data systems to collect and analyze demographic data by race to better assess inequities within their systems, which will allow them to develop and implement more effective solutions for at-risk populations.

  3. A full review of all U.S. child welfare policies should be conducted with a specific focus on racial equity, including an evaluation of Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) Reform, increased support for biological families at risk of losing children to the foster system and continued implementation of the Families First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).

About the Annie E. Casey Foundation The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a philanthropic nonprofit organization devoted to developing a brighter future for millions of children at risk of poor educational, economic, social and health outcomes. The Foundation’s work focuses on strengthening families, building stronger communities and ensuring access to opportunity, because children need all three to succeed.

About Bethany Bethany is an international Christian nonprofit that has been changing the world through family for 75 years. Bethany partners with churches and communities in more than 30 states and nearly a dozen countries, impacting hundreds of thousands of lives each year.

Read the full report here.