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UCLA Pritzker Center Research Fuels New Motion by LA County Board of Supervisors

By Joanie Harmon

The center’s report on the shortfalls of blind removal propels countywide recognition of the importance of considering race in removal decisions impacting Black families.

A motion, titled, “Blind Removals Moving Forward: Color Consciousness and Safeguarding Against Racial Bias,” was made on April 23 by L.A. County Supervisors Holly J. Mitchell and Lindsey P. Horvath, proposing that the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) consider and incorporate recommendations in a report by the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families titled, “Beyond Blind Removal: Color Consciousness and Anti-Racism in Los Angeles County Child Welfare.”

“Reevaluating the systems and practices the County employs to deliver services to families is one that requires regular reflection, evaluation, and evolution, to ensure that we are leaving families stronger than how we found them,” write Mitchell and Horvath in their motion. “Although the intent of assuring that a child is free of abuse and neglect is one that can be perceived as being well intended, all too often, the process to make such determination has proven to be more harmful than helpful.

“When dealing with the child welfare system, which has roots traced back to structural racism, the County must take accountability and acknowledge its role in normalizing and desensitization to the dangers that come with separating Black children from their families. Such desensitization often impacts the very professionals tasked with keeping our children safe and leads to the internalization of racial bias, which goes unchecked.”

The concept of blind removal dictates that the assigned social worker’s only interaction is to conduct an initial assessment, which helps contain the possibility of bias from influencing the investigation process, including the crucial period when the decision to remove a child from their home is made. Omitting knowledge of the child’s race or ethnicity was intended to safeguard against implicit bias.

“The County has continued to focus on prevention and promotion to both mitigate harm and system involvement, while promoting child and family wellbeing,” write Horvath and Mitchell. “Safety is the utmost priority in our County’s child welfare system. The blind removal pilot presented the County with an opportunity to incorporate safety considerations for all families, not just those who identify as Black. Staff shared that awareness of racial bias in their practice led to increased likelihood toward continued growth. It also increased their awareness of institutionalized racism, implicit bias, and even helped recognize biased beliefs in their own practice.”

The recommendations in the UCLA report are aimed at addressing the root cause of disproportionalities among Black families and children in the child welfare system, beginning with the implementation of the community-based approach of upstream enhancements, leveraging court resources, judicial leadership, child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health, and other partnerships to enhance state and local collaboration. In addition, Eliminating Racial Disproportionality and Disparity (ERDD) roundtables discussions will be required at all DCFS regional offices; the director of DCFS, or a designee for the L.A. County Office of Equity will identify and execute an agreement with an equity consultant to conduct racial bias training for DCFS University and new hire orientation, executive leadership, union representatives, management, hotline staff, social workers, and all applicable staff and administration.

LA County Supervisors Holly J. Mitchell (third from left, upper row) and Lindsey P. Horvath recently made a motion to incorporate recommendations made by the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families in removal decisions made by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services that involve Black families. Full caption below.

This is a revision of an unanimously passed motion in 2021 by the L.A. Board of Supervisors to implement “Toward a Color-Blind Child Welfare System: Pilot Program for Safeguarding Against Racial Bias,” which was modeled after a program in Nassau County, New York, and conducted in partnership with the UCLA Pritzker Center. The pilot program was conducted in the West Los Angeles and Compton-Carson DCFS regional offices over two years, and called for the evaluation, training, and support from subject matter experts on racial bias and blind removals. This included a series of six report-backs from inception to conclusion, along with an academic report on the findings and recommendations for policy and practice reform. In 2023, the findings from the pilot were released, in the report titled, “Beyond Blind Removal: Color Consciousness and Anti-Racism in Los Angeles County Child Welfare.”

“The UCLA Pritzker Center congratulates Supervisors Mitchell and Horvath for bolding advancing a new vision for an anti-racist child welfare system," says Taylor Dudley, J.D., executive director of the Pritzker Center. "We are proud to support evaluation and creating meaningful change in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.”

The new motion by Supervisors Horvath and Mitchell calls for further efforts by DCFS to address the need for widespread and deepened training of all levels of its personnel, toward the agency’s ability to imbue its practices through an anti-racist lens, with a focus on Black children and families. ERDD goals will normalize regular discussions about race and disproportionality, seeking ways to build on equity practices, and create safe spaces for facilitators and/or coaches to support staff and address the elevated emotions that may arise from having discussions about race and culture.

In consultation with the county’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, & Inclusion Initiative, DCFS will  reimagine and transform the organizational culture of the workforce by conducting an equity audit on upcoming reform efforts, as well as direct practices and training, in order to identify gaps where current strategies are not being properly implemented or require improvement. In consultation with the LA County Office of Child Protection, there will be steps to ensure that all external support are engaged, including members of impacted communities, the Commission for Children and Families, the Alliance for Children’s Rights, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and trusted messengers for the ongoing development and evaluation of the DCFS’ Office of Equity. Supervisors Mitchell and Horvath have also called for sufficient funding in the DCFS budget to fund the agreement and any amendments.

“The removal of a child from a parent often results in the breakdown of families and disrupts a familiar environment that can impose unintentional, yet lasting harm,” state Supervisors Mitchell and Horvath. “To fundamentally transform the systems that serve residents in our unfinished communities within the County, we must reimagine the foundations of systems that perpetuate harm among families. The County has the power to redesign systems that often hurts families when the intention is to help and support them.”

Above: (L-R, upper row) D’Artagnan Scorza (’13, Ph.D., Urban Schooling), executive director of Racial Equity, LA County; Mitchell, Taylor Dudley, JD, executive director, Pritzker Center; Brandon Nichols, director, LA County Department of Child and Family Services; and Tyrone Howard, co-director, Pritzker Center and UCLA professor of education.

Also pictured: Audra Langley, co-director, Pritzker Center (fifth from left, upper row); and Wasserman Dean Christina Christie, UCLA School of Education and Information Studies (second from right, upper row).

Courtesy of the Office of LA County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell