Friday, December 22, 2006

Addressing racial disparity in foster care system

Family Court hopefuls discuss racial disparity in foster care
Howington, Patrick. Louisville Courier-Journal, Oct. 30, 2006, pg. B2.

African Americans make up about 19 percent of the Jefferson County population, but nearly 57 percent of the county's children who are placed in foster homes are black, according to state figures.

Candidates for Family Court judge were asked what they would do to change that during a forum last night at the Louisville Urban League.

Answers ranged from keeping children in school to attacking poverty to lessening racial disparities in the number of initial reports to child-protection agencies about possible abuse or neglect. The subject highlighted the forum, which was the last in a series of such events sponsored by the Louisville Branch of the NAACP, the Urban League and other organizations leading up to the Nov. 7 election.

Incumbent Family Court judges said they don't discriminate in decisions to place children in foster care, but realize that more black families are brought before them for such decisions.

"I don't consider what race the child is. I consider what the facts are," said Judge Joseph O'Reilly, incumbent in the 7th Division of Family Court. He is being challenged by attorney Bill Tingley.

"Maybe the Cabinet (for Health and Family Services) is bringing me more cases from the African-American community," O'Reilly said.

Cabinet statistics show that 44 percent of the cases in which social workers concluded that Jefferson County children were abused or neglected involved African-American children. Such cases end up before judges in Family Court, a division of Circuit Court.

Delanor Manson, executive director of the cabinet's Office of Quality Management, said the cabinet wants to change the "community lens" that sees black families as more likely to be neglectful or abusive — leading to more initial reports to child-protection officials by neighbors, teachers or others.Manson was one of three panelists who posed questions to candidates.

But she said it's not a county problem, or even a Kentucky problem, but a national one.

Judge Jerry Bowles of the 6th Division, who is opposed by attorney Richard Porter, said people in black neighborhoods might be more willing to call police to report domestic problems, leading to more cases in the system.

"We know there's as much domestic violence in the East End as in the West End. ... But we get more calls from the West End," Bowles said.

Four of Jefferson County's 10 Family Court judges face no opposition. At least one candidate from each of the six contested races appeared at last night's forum. The audience also heard from Jefferson County candidates for two District Court seats.


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