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Disparities in Child Welfare

Children and youth of color are disproportionately represented in Colorado’s child protective systems just as they are nationally. Once involved with these systems, children and youth of color are more likely to be removed from their homes, spend longer periods of time in outhome care, and achieve fewer positive outcomes than their white peers.

In June 2012, the Disparities Resource Center (DRC) was transferred to the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect and a new partnership and vision was forged to address the long standing issues related to disparate outcomes in systems that provide services to children and families.

Through this new partnership, the DRC will serve as a national model that expands its focus beyond child welfare into areas such as behavioral health, public health care, direct mental health services and education.  Many agencies, systems, and jurisdictions are aware there is a problem but struggle to know how to change it. The DRC is poised to assist agencies in collecting and analyzing their data through a race equity lens, developing strategies and solutions in a family-centered, community-based and cultural responsive manner.​


In May 2009, the American Humane Association, in partnership with the Colorado Department of Human Services Division of Child Welfare (CDHS), launched the Colorado Disparities Resource Center (CDRC) to address longstanding issues of service disparities in child welfare based on race and ethnicity. This effort was funded through a competitive grant process through the Statewide Strategic Use Funds (SSUF). ​

The CDRC’s overall focus was to develop solutions that responded to the complex causes of inequities in the child welfare system. The CDRC worked to increase awareness among county department managers of the levels of service disparity in their systems by monitoring the development of state and county disparity action plans and by obtaining and sharing data from Colorado Trails, the Statewide Automated Child Welfare System (SACWIS) that tracks all child protection cases in the state. Through analysis of this data, the CDRC also provided accurate accounts of the (dis)proportion of families and children of color in Colorado’s child protection system, as well as racial disparities in the provision of child welfare services.

During the three year funding cycle, the CDRC worked closely with 10 Colorado counties (five of which are the state’s differential response pilot counties) to inform them of the story that their own data was telling and to use that data to develop strategies to ensure that their child welfare practices and policies were approached through a cultural and race equity lens. The Center provided technical assistance to each county in its efforts to mitigate disparities and facilitated a collaborative learning environment for counties to network and learn from one another.

During this legacy partnership, the CDRC had many notable accomplishments, including:

  • Hiring a Disproportionality Specialist that was co house at CDHS and AHA and served as the liaison between the state, counties and American Humane
  • Publically sharing child welfare disparities data at State and County levels to enhance transparency and enlist the help of communities to problem solve
  • Creation of CDRC website‐ to provide resources, project updates and display the data
  • Completion of the Achieving Racial Equity in Child Welfare Services Training Implementation Guide[1] which provided a blueprint for counties in the beginning stages of the disparities work
  • Data Point Expansion to look at the level of disparities at every salient decision making point, from intake to exiting the system
  • Conducting and participating in a series of local and national conferences to share lessons learned of the Colorado work

  • Integrating race equity work into other state initiatives such as Differential Response and the Colorado Practice Model to ensure that cultural responsiveness was embedded into all child welfare initiatives
Race Equity work takes time. There is no quick fix to reducing disparate outcomes for children and families of color in any system. To become a jurisdiction that serves all individuals in a fair and equitable manner, cultural responsiveness has to be embedded in every level of service that touches the life of an adult client, child or family; no matter race or place. This work is not an initiative but rather must become a part of how the work is done 24/7/365. Furthermore, no single agency or system can solve the problem of racial disproportionality and disparities alone. Cross-systems collaboration as well as community engagement is key. The DRC believes sustainable change is fostered through inclusive partnership and will aid you in your efforts to build lasting relationships with internal and external stakeholders, as well as the service recipients toward whom your race equity efforts are focused.

The DRC offers customized training, coaching, technical assistance and solution-focused strategy development in areas such as: 

  • Using your data to tell the story and using data-informed decision-making to guide culturally responsive policy and practice changes

  • Community and stakeholder engagement; building relationships that sustain lasting change and collaboration

  • Staff development, training and education to advance both knowledge of and strategies to advance equitable service delivery within and across systems

  • Training in Family Group Decision Making and other inclusive decision-making practices that promote equitable service delivery

  • Training in Engaging Fathers in a way that is designed to move fathers from shame and avoidance to self-esteem and full engagement​


Disproportionality Information Summit: Final Report
Supported by the Quality Improvement Center on Differential Response in Child Protective Services, March 24-25, 2009

Race Equity Review: Findings From a Qualitative Analysis of Racial Disproportionality and Disparity for African American Children and Families in Michigan’s Child Welfare System
The Center for the Study of Social Policy, Jan. 16, 2009

Understanding and Addressing Disproportionality in the Front End of the Child Welfare System
Supported by the Bay Area Social Services Consortium and the Zellerbach Family Foundation, July 2005.


Color of Child Welfare Policy: Racial Disparities in Child Welfare Services
Hunter College School of Social Work Child Welfare Lecture Series, April 29, 2002
Ruth McRoy, Ph.D.


NAPCWA Disproportionality Diagnostic Tool 

Recommended Reading

Allen, T. W. (2002). The invention of the White race: The origin of racial oppression in Anglo America (4th ed.). New York: Biddles.

Belanger, K., Brooks, S., & CWLA’s National Advisory Committee on Rural Social Services. (2009). Guidelines for cultural competence in rural child welfare. Arlington, VA: CWLA Press.

Derezotes, D. M., Poertner, J., & Testa, M. F. (Eds.). (2005). Race matters in child welfare: The overrepresentation of African American children in the system. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Goodman, D. J. (2001). Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kendall, F. E. (2006). Understanding white privilege: Creating pathways to authentic relationships across race. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Kozol, J. (1991). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools. New York: Crown.

Mallon, G. P., & Hess, P. M. (Eds.). (2005). Child welfare for the 21st century: A handbook of practices, policies, and programs. New York: Columbia University Press.

Roberts, D. (2002). Shattered bonds: The color of child welfare. New York: Basic Books.

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and other conversations about race. New York: Basic Books.

Wise, T. (2008). White like me: Reflections on race from a privileged son. Brooklyn, NY: Soft Skull Press.

Zinn, H. (2003). A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. New York: HarperCollins.

​Thank you for your interest in Colorado’s child welfare disparities data. The CDRC displays child welfare disparities data to state and county departments and other key stakeholders throughout Colorado. The Colorado child welfare disparities data is now available through the Colorado Department of Human services, Division of Child Welfare.

The site can be accessed via

A key element of the CDRC has been to obtain and use data from the Colorado Trails System to “tell the story” of disproportionality and disparities in Colorado’s child welfare system. For the CDRC to continue to be effective, data are needed to describe disproportionality and disparities at each decision point in the child welfare service delivery system.

These analyses are presented statewide, for each county and at the community level. Data will be produced and distributed regularly in order to monitor progress in addressing disparities.