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Racial Disparities in Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice


You probably already know this, but we here at Voices for Children in Nebraska are passionate about justice and fairness for all of Nebraska’s kids. This passion drives us to examine troubling trends in the hopes that solutions can be found for even the most complicated and longstanding of challenges that Nebraska’s kids face. This week we’re taking a look at one of those challenges – racial and ethnic disparities in our state’s child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Nationally, children and youth of color are disproportionately represented in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Just what does that mean? There are a greater percentage of children of color in these systems than there are in the population as a whole. In 2009, African American children represented 33% of children in out-of-home care in the United States, but were only 15% of the population. There’s a concrete example of disproportional representation (see Black Administrators in Child Welfare for this and other data).

Underlying this disproportional representation are the disparities in the way that institutions and systems have and continue to treat people of color in the United States. Children of color are:

  • More likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice and child welfare system;
  • Often offered lower quality services or more intrusive services;
  • More likely to experience many placement changes in the child welfare system; and
  • More likely to go directly into the adult court system and bypass the chance of receiving developmentally appropriate services.

The problem isn’t just national. Later this week, we will dig into data from our Kids Count in Nebraska Report that highlights the disproportional representation of children of color in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems here in Nebraska. Even though there aren’t easy solutions to these disparities, it is crucial we examine how and why Nebraska is disproportionately failing our children and youth of color.

As a state, we need to work together to address these issues in a number of different ways. Other states have found success in commissioning studies, in empowering communities and families to have a voice in planning system improvements, and in embracing culturally competent practices. There is plenty of work ahead of us, but if we want all of Nebraska’s children to have a chance to succeed, addressing racial disparities is crucial.


Thank you to taking the time to share!


  1. REPLY
    Doris Lassiter says

    Thank you for your efforts in focusing on the disparities that impact our black children in Nebraska. Looking forward to future reports that hopefully will also discuss the disparity in black administrators employed in agencies that serve so many black children. Challenge all agencies to look at the value of having diverse representation in adminstrative leadership roles and on boards.

  2. REPLY
    Manuela Dietrich says

    Thank you for your efforts to bring focus on the “disproportional representation of children of color in our child welfare and juvenile justice systems.” To many children are dis-empowered, and we need to address the influences of poverty, prejudice/discrimination, and underrepresentation. I really value your work.

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