ISCORE breakout session discusses racism in the child welfare system


Ana Clymer and Rachel Vos Carrillo present their title slide for their presentation about dismantling racism in our child welfare system.

Ashley Tibbs

During the Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity (ISCORE), one virtual session was “Dismantling Racism in Child Welfare.” 

Ana Clymer, Iowa statewide cultural equity coordinator, and Rachel Carrillo, program coordinator, led the session. 

Clymer and Carrillo work with the Child Welfare Research and Training Project (CWRTP) within the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State. The project’s goal is to “support those who serve Iowa children, families, and communities.”

During the session, Clymer and Carrillo explained there is an overrepresentation of African American, Hispanic and Native American children in the child welfare system for several systemic reasons. 

This overrepresentation, Clymer said, is due to historical racial and ethnic oppression combined with our present-day laws regarding child welfare. 

Carrillo spent the majority of the session discussing the historical context of racism within our child welfare system. She said there were three approaches to child welfare in the 19th century: color, culture and class. The approach to children of color was exclusion, she said. 

For Native Americans, she explained, the approach was forced assimilation. Until the 20th century, these practices caused lifelong trauma in children who went through the welfare system, she said. 

Carrillo then went through how this historical oppression has impacted the child welfare system today.

“What we have is really a punitive system that is steeped in biases,” she said, adding that this system punishes African American families the most.

Carrillo and Clymer then moved on to how we can begin to dismantle racism today. This requires economic stability, Clymer said.

“So as we think about how we center equity, it’s not enough just to center it,” she said. “It must drive systems change to address root causes of poverty and access to resources and basic needs.”

She talked at length about what CWRTP is doing to further its goal of dismantling racism within the child welfare system.

Those involved in the project are focused on community partnerships for protecting children, keeping families together and arriving at the desired result for families in the child welfare system.

The goal of the session was to help participants understand the historical context of racism in the child welfare system and inform the audience about CWRTP’s efforts across the state that are designed to address and dismantle racism in the child welfare system. 

By the end of the session, more than 80 people had attended. There were several questions about various aspects of the child welfare system at the end of the session.

You can learn more about CWRTP on their website.