Sen. Gomez is asking the wrong question about David Almond

Studies indicate race is not a factor in family reuinification

MY HEART SANK when I read Shira Schoenberg’s May 6, 2021 article, Did DCF return David Almond to his father because he is White? As someone who has dedicated much of her life to helping abused and neglected children, I find the response of Sen. Adam Gomez to the horrific death of David Almond incomprehensible.  After listening to Child Advocate Maria Mossaides describe how a disabled child was failed at every turn by the systems that exist to care for him, the primary concern of Gomez was whether Almond would have been treated differently if he had not been White.

It seems likely that Gomez has been influenced by a dominant narrative that has taken over the child welfare world:Child Protective Services workers take children away from their capable and loving parents, especially parents of color, and often refuse to give them back. In this narrative, Child Protective Services is likened to the police, interfering in families of color based on racial bias. Some of those advocating this view argue that both the police and Child Protective Services should be abolished.

It is true that Black and indigenous children are more likely to be placed in foster care than White children. National data indicate that Black children represent 23 percent of the children in foster care, compared to only 14 percent of children in the general population. Native American children are approximately 2 percent of the children in foster care compared to 1 percent of the child population. Latino children are actually underrepresented in foster care at the national level, though they are overrepresented in some states, including Massachusetts, as CommonWealth  recently reported.

There is considerable evidence that these disparities in foster care placement are due to differences in the underlying rate of child abuse and neglect between Black, indigenous and White families. However, that is actually beside the point that Senator Gomez was making. He was asking if David Almond would have been reunified with his family had he been Black.

Studies do indicate that families of color wait longer to reunify with their children.  But new research indicates that after adjusting for other relevant factors (like the cause of removal and the length of stay in foster care), there are no differences in the likelihood of reunification with their families for Black, multiracial, or White children. Hispanic children are more likely to reunify with their families, and indigenous children do have lower odds of reunification than White children. Moreover, a state’s degree of disproportionality in representation of Black and Hispanic children in foster care did not affect its reunification rates for these children. So there is reason to believe that David Almond would have been reunified with his father had he been Black or Hispanic.

Meet the Author

Marie Cohen

Former researcher, policy analyst, and social worker, District of Columbia foster care system
Even if one accepts the premise apparently underlying the senator’s original question about whether Almond would have been returned to his parents had he been Black, indigenous, or a person of color (or “BIPOC,” as he put it), the question was very strange.  After all, Almond’s return to his father led to his death.  If it were true that Almond would not have been sent home had he been a child of color, the only logical conclusion is that Massachusetts ought to take steps to ensure that White children receive the same level of protection from deadly parental abuse as is currently afforded BIPOC children.  Yet somehow this does not appear to be the point Senator Gomez was attempting to make; such a conclusion runs counter to his preferred narrative in which children of color are treated poorly by the system and should instead be treated as White children.

Marie Cohen is a former researcher, policy analyst, and social worker in the District of Columbia’s foster care system. She writes the blog, Child Welfare Monitor.