What You Should Know About Disproportionality

Feb 22 2018

child studying

By Ashika Sethi

Last year, 1,767 children were served by CASA of Travis County. Of those children, 51% identified as Hispanic/Latino, 25% identified as Black/African-American, and 16% identified as White. According to 2016 Census data, 49.4% of the Travis County population is White, 33.8% is Hispanic/Latino, and 8.9% is Black/African-American.

So why is the demographic makeup of children in the Travis County child welfare system so different than the demographic makeup of the county?

This phenomenon is called disproportionality, meaning that “children from racial and ethnic minority groups may be represented disproportionately in the child welfare system or may receive disparate services” (Child Welfare Information Gateway).

There are higher numbers of children of Black/African-American or Hispanic/Latino descent in the child welfare system nationwide. This disproportionality is due to a number of systemic issues surrounding the rates of reports to Child Protective Services (CPS), poverty and access to services.

Today, we're sharing some facts that you should know about disproportionality in the child welfare system:


Rates of child abuse are not higher for children of color when compared to white children, according to Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare, meaning that people of color do not treat their children worse than white families do. Racial disproportionality in the child welfare system is due to systemic racism, cultural misunderstandings, stereotypes and biases that influence the decision to report alleged child abuse/neglect to CPS.

“Child welfare professionals or others involved with the case or family may knowingly or unknowingly let personal biases affect their decision-making. For example, two studies in Texas found that race, risk, and income all influence case decision, but even though African American families tended to be assessed with lower risk scores than White families, they were more likely than White families to have substantiated cases, have their children removed, or be provided family-based safety services" (Child Welfare Information Gateway). 

This issue is also largely due to poverty. In fact, because children of color and their parents are more likely to attend community programs due to poverty, they are also more likely be to be reported to CPS. Oftentimes, mandatory reporters work at community programs and poor families need to attend these programs to meet their basic needs. Since these families are more often in the line of sight for mandatory reporters, these children are more likely to be reported to CPS. Families that are of a higher income bracket don’t need these services and therefore aren’t often under the scrutiny of mandatory reporters.


Children of color not only enter the child welfare system at higher rates, but once they enter the system, their experience is often different from that of white children. Children from impoverished black communities tend to stay in the foster care system for longer periods of time, according to this study by several federal departments including Health and Human Services. They also have more placements while in foster care, receive fewer services, have lower graduation rates, and leave the system less prepared to be adults according to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services.

Remaining in a state of uncertainty for long periods of time can greatly harm children’s psyches and sense of belonging and security, and this phenomenon disproportionately affects children of color who are in the foster care system more than white children in the system.


When one segment of the population is put at a disservice, everyone suffers. The populations who are affected by disproportionality are not the only ones who must work to fix it. The underprivileged cannot succeed without privileged allies helping to bring their issues into the forefront of conversations held by those in powerful positions. When children of color are more likely to become involved in the child welfare system in Austin, everyone needs to step up and speak out in order to help alleviate this disparity.

“According to a DFPS report, the causes of disproportionality are ‘multifaceted and complex’, so the solutions must be as well. Poverty is a common indicator for many families involved in the child welfare system and solutions will likely need to address economic security and related supportive factors.” (Travis County Child Protective Services Board)

In addition, the cost of child welfare in Travis County is significant. If children of color are spending more time in the child welfare system, these costs will rise and so will the burden on taxpayers. In 2018, the budget for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is over two billion dollars. If we spend more time addressing issues of disproportionality in the child welfare system and lowering the amount of time these children spend in the system, this budget could decrease dramatically.


You can do something about solving the problem of disproportionality. While systemic racism and poverty is a behemoth of an issue to tackle, there absolutely are ways that you can speak out in your community about the issue of disproportionality in Austin’s child welfare system. You can use your knowledge to help advocate for children. You can talk to your legislators about the need to include more cultural competency in the child welfare system and the reporting process.  Attend the February 26th Race-Based Trauma: The Missing Piece of the Trauma Conversation training at the Austin Child Guidance Center. You can even recruit more CASA volunteers (or become one yourself) who specifically train on cultural competence and cultural humility in order to help improve outcomes for children of color in the child welfare system.