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Appendix 4115: Information to Consider About Race, Color, and National Origin (RCNO) in Placement Decisions

CPS December 2016

Questions and Answers Regarding RCNO in Placement Decisions:

1. Can CPS staff consider the RCNO of children or applicants for foster and adoptive parenting in making placement decisions?

The federal Multiethnic Placement Act and Interethnic Placement Act (known together as MEPA-IEP) prohibit any delay or denial of a child’s placement or of a foster or adoptive parent’s application based on RCNO. Use of RCNO as a factor in a placement violates the law even if no delay or denial results, except in extremely limited circumstances outlined below.

Exception: If a placement involves a Native American child, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) may apply. MEPA-IEP does not apply to a placement regulated by ICWA. See Appendix 1226-A: Child-Placing Requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act and Related Guidelines and Regulations.

2. Are there circumstances in which a caseworker can consider RCNO in making placement decisions?

Under federal law, any consideration of race, color, or national origin must be in the context of an individualized placement decision. Even in the context of an individualized placement decision, these factors can be considered only in unusual circumstances, if a child has a special, compelling need that makes it necessary. If the caseworker believes it is necessary to consider RCNO in a placement decision, the caseworker must document the unique, compelling circumstances that support this conclusion. The supervisor must approve the decision.

3. Can CPS staff consider the birth family’s desire to have their child placed with a family of a specific race, color, or national origin?

No. Federal policy specifically points to this type of request as an example of a violation of MEPA-IEP.

4. What special needs of a child might require a placement decision based on RCNO?

If a placement decision based in part on race, color, or national origin appears to be necessary for a child, the caseworker first determines whether a child’s special need can be met in another manner. For example, a child who has been taunted about his or her race needs a caretaker sensitive and able to help him or her cope with the issue, but does not necessarily need a placement with a family of any particular race. Similarly, a child who only speaks Spanish may need a Spanish-speaking caretaker, but that does not require a placement decision based on RCNO. Even when there is a compelling need to consider RCNO, a placement decision must take into account all of a child’s needs and should not be decided solely on any one factor.

Younger children are much less likely to have a special need for a placement decision based on RCNO. One situation that might warrant an exception would be when an older child voices a strong opinion about the race, color, or national origin of the family with whom he or she will be placed. Even in that circumstance, the caseworker should discuss any appropriate families that don’t meet the child’s stated preference with him or her, in an effort to find the best possible placement. If a child has been severely abused or neglected and associates the abuse with the RCNO of the perpetrator, that might also warrant a placement decision using these otherwise prohibited factors.

5. Can staff consider RCNO if it won’t delay or deny a child’s placement?

No. The law protects both the child’s right to a placement that isn’t delayed or denied based on RCNO and an applicant’s right to not to be denied the chance to foster or adopt based on RCNO.

6. Can staff assess a prospective foster or adoptive parent’s “cultural competency”?

No. In the context of assessing whether a specific family can meet a particular child’s special needs, the family’s capacity to respond to a child might raise issues related to RCNO, but this should be a rare circumstance and never a routine practice.

7. How should staff address RCNO with potential foster and adoptive parents?

All foster and adoptive parenting applicants should be told about the kinds of children available for placement through DFPS: their ages, medical and mental health conditions, social histories, and racial and ethnic backgrounds. Everyone interested in foster or adoptive parenting should be offered, but not required to use, material and resources on transracial parenting. The Transracial Parenting Project of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) has produced excellent materials on this subject. The materials are available from NACAC at www.NACAC.org or by calling (651) 644-3036.

Reference materials include the:

  •  Self-Awareness Tool — designed to help parents decide if caring for a child of another race or culture is appropriate for their family;

  •  Training Curriculum — a curriculum designed for agencies or parenting groups to use in educating potential caretakers about transracial parenting; and

  •  Parenting Resource Manual — a resource for multi-racial families.

8. If staff can’t assess an applicant on RCNO issues, how do we know if a family can meet a child’s needs?

The best tools are training and education. Accurate and realistic information about foster and adoptive parenting, including transracial parenting, is essential. This enables an applicant to accurately self-assess his or her capacity to meet various kinds of needs a particular child may have. The NACAC resources and materials are designed for this purpose. NACAC recommends that any training or mentoring focused on transracial parenting be done separately from the home study process to make sure that applicants can participate freely without fear that their comments may be used against them in the evaluation process. In addition, contractor home studies should contain relevant information and may be provided to caseworkers to aid in their placement decisions concerning RCNO issues.

9. What if a foster or adoptive parent states that he or she only wants a child of a certain RCNO?

An applicant’s decision as to the child he or she chooses to parent should be respected. However, staff should inform all applicants about the variety of children available for placement, including the race, color, and national origin, and discuss transracial parenting with interested families. The fact that a family has indicated a preference for a child of a certain RCNO should not prevent staff from discussing children that do not meet the applicant’s stated criteria, if the family and child appear to be a good match. If the applicant reiterates his or her initial preference, however, that can be included in the home study and relied on for purposes of selecting possible placements in the future.

10. How should staff address RCNO in the home study process, since the study is usually prepared before an individual child is considered?

Avoid commenting on an applicant’s ability to parent a child of a certain RCNO or approving a family for a child of a specific RCNO unless a specific child with a need related to RCNO has been identified.

Staff can document in the study what type of children the family is interested in fostering or adopting, what kind of experience (or lack of experience) the family has in caring for the kind of child they want, and whether or not the applicant is interested in transracial parenting. If an applicant is interested in transracial parenting, document whether the applicant has been provided with the NACAC Self Awareness Tool or other training resources.

11. How should staff handle applicants who make racist or extremely insensitive comments during the home study process?

Routine screening of applicants based on their ability to parent transracially is prohibited. Only in an extreme case, such as where an applicant uses a racial slur, should the home study reflect an applicant’s attitudes on RCNO issues. The fact that an applicant has limited exposure to other cultures, for example, is not a permissible consideration under the law (unless an individual child has a specific, documented need and a family is being assessed for that child).

All applicants should be assessed for the skills and abilities necessary for parenting children who have been abused and neglected. When assessing an applicant, issues such as flexibility, tolerance, ability to nurture the child, and positive support of a child’s self-concept should also be addressed.

When there are concerns about verifying a family, staff should consult with supervisory staff and the regional attorney as necessary.

12. What should staff do if there are doubts about whether a specific placement may violate the law?

Staff should remember that the complexity of these laws and the importance of each individual child’s case make these decisions difficult. Whenever possible, placement decisions should be made in a four-way collaboration (caseworker, supervisor, FAD worker, and supervisor), but no decision should be made without consulting a supervisor or program director. Staff should consult the regional attorney if questions or concerns arise about a case.

13. How can staff show that casework decisions comply with federal laws relating to RCNO?

Documenting the rationale for selecting a specific family for a child (or removing a child from a home) is the best way to demonstrate that staff relied on appropriate criteria in making casework decisions. Staff should avoid comments in the home study or case record that show inappropriate consideration of RCNO or opinions of an applicant’s “cultural competency.”

14. Can RCNO be considered in the recruitment of foster and adoptive families?

Federal law requires that CPS actively, diligently recruit families that reflect the diversity of the children who need placements. To do this, staff should target recruitment efforts at groups based on RCNO that are underrepresented and promptly address any barriers that limit access to the home study process (such as language, location, and hours of operation). The goal is to have a diverse pool of families that reflects proportionately the children waiting for placement.

Staff cannot exclude families that respond to recruitment simply because they are not part of the targeted population. Similarly, limiting a child’s placement options by listing a child only with an agency that focuses on single RCNO placements is prohibited. In this situation, the child must also be listed with an agency that accepts families without regard to RCNO.

15. What happens if a caseworker violates MEPA-IEP?

Violation of MEPA-IEP is deemed to be a civil rights violation, which can give the person whose rights were violated a right to a court order to correct the harm as well as monetary damages. States in violation of MEPA-IEP can also be subject to federal financial penalties if a plan for corrective action fails to cure the problem.

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