Indy Star on 10/16/2019 by Jessica Levy
Can education about bias and institutionalized racism help improve child welfare throughout Indiana? Nonprofit organization Child Advocates, with support from the Central Indiana Community Foundation, is betting that it can.
Child Advocates has been leading educational workshops for hundreds of local businesses and community leaders since 2010, but it only recently launched a highly localized version of the workshops focusing specifically on Indiana.
The program, called “Interrupting Racism for Children,” uses educational methods from its tried and tested programs while adding new statistics, insights and historical background that makes the program especially relevant to the local population.
Taking a hard look at the root causes of racism, the program asks participants to examine how racism may be embedded into modern institutions, even if it’s unintentional. Through the interactive workshops, participants learn to define racism and identify specific instances where institutionalized racism has had and continues to have adverse impacts on communities of color.
The goal is for participants not only to walk away with a better understanding of the history of race and racism in Indiana, but also to arm themselves with practical approaches to acknowledge and interrupt that racism before it does further damage.
That damage is clearly showcased in a consistent pattern of disproportionality within the local child welfare system. According to Child Advocates, black children make up just 11% of the population in Marion County, yet account for 40.9% of the welfare system. Comparatively, white children represent 71% of the population and only 46.7% of children in the system.
Those numbers raise important questions about the role that institutionalized racism plays in addressing the needs of Indiana’s different communities. The opportunity for improvement is clear, and Child Advocates is stepping up its efforts to educate community leaders on possible reasons for the discrepancy and what they can do to correct it.
The first step to dismantling institutionalized racism is educating people about its harmful effects. By increasing awareness of the problem, everyone who plays a role in the child welfare system — whether directly or tangentially — has an opportunity to explore how they can interrupt built-in racism.
Although the disproportionality in the system highlights the very real impacts of racism on the black community in particular, Child Advocates notes that people of all races stand to benefit from a more equal system. Ultimately, a community where all people feel that society’s doors are open to them is a community that will thrive socially and economically.
“If we want Indianapolis to be a socially healthy and economically thriving community, we must address systemic racism and this program is a great place to begin,” said Jill English, the Interrupting Racism for Children program director.
English is a DePauw University graduate who has worked in the field since 1996, with former roles in the Office of Family and Children (now called the Department of Child Services) and The Villages of Indiana, Inc. She uses insights gleaned from her experience with the child welfare and foster care systems to teach institutions and individuals how they can better serve those children.
“Having worked in child welfare nearly my entire career, I’ve seen the disparity for decades,” said English. “It was, and continues to be, refreshing to see an organization that works with youth so committed to making this work a priority,” English said about her current work with Child Advocates.
One workshop at a time, Child Advocates hopes that disparity will disappear.
For more information on Child Advocates’ Interrupting Racism for Children workshops and other programs to assist children in need, visit childadvocates.net.
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