February 8, 2002
Rodger G. Lum, Ph.D.
Health and Human Services Agency
County of San Diego
1700 Pacific Highway
San Diego, CA 92101-2417
Reference No. 09-99-7003
Dear Mr. Lum:
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has completed a review of the Children Services Bureau's ( the Bureau) compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and implementing regulation, 45 CFR Part 80 (Title VI), and the Interethnic Adoption Provisions of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (MEPA-IEP). Title VI and MEPA-IEP prohibit discrimination in foster care and adoptive placement decisions based on race, color, or national origin.
The review focused on whether the Bureau has policies or procedures that delay or deny an individual the opportunity to become an foster or adoptive parent based on the race, color, or national origin of the prospective parent or the child involved. Our initial inquiry raised concerns that the Bureau's practices may not meet the requirements of Title VI and MEPA-IEP.
While we were proceeding with the review, the Bureau made revisions to its placement policies and procedures and instituted some new practices. In January 2002 we met with Bureau staff to discuss the revisions. We also reviewed adoption case files and home studies. Based on the totality of information that we obtained throughout the review and the Bureau's revised practices, OCR has determined that the Bureau has achieved compliance with the requirements of Title VI and MEPA-IEP. A summary of our findings is set forth below.
Foster Care Placement
The Bureau's foster care placement guidelines define selection factors for foster home placements. The factors include proximity to siblings, parents, school, and medical and therapy services, behavior, and number and age of other children in the home. The Bureau also considers the language needs of the child and parents. The guidelines are free of any references to race or ethnicity as a criteria for matching a child with a foster family. Staff told OCR that the Bureau will move a child from one placement to another when the child is receiving improper or substandard care. The race or ethnicity of the foster parent or the child involved do not appear to be a factor in initial placements or in decisions to move a child from one home to another.
MEPA-IEP promotes recruitment where there is a need for prospective parents who reflect the race and ethnicity of the children needing placement. The Bureau conducts both general and targeted recruitment through printed and electronic media. African-American and Hispanic children are significantly over-represented in the population of children seeking placements within the County of San Diego. The Bureau is aggressively recruiting prospective families from these communities.
The Bureau maintains two units that do heavy outreach into the African-American and Hispanic communities. The Tayari African-American Adoptions unit recruits prospective foster and adoptive parents in the African-American community. The Nuestros Ninos (Our Children) unit does recruitment in the Hispanic community. Nuestros Ninos utilizes Spanish-speaking social workers for outreach and recruitment within the Spanish-speaking community. Both units host their own targeted recruitment events.
Under MEPA-IEP requirements, recruitment targeted to specific racial and ethnic groups must not exclude other groups from recruitment activities and events. We found that the Bureau widely publicizes both general and targeted recruitment events within all racial and ethnic communities. Records show that prospective parents of different racial and ethnic groups attended targeted recruitment. The Bureau's recruitment practices appear to meet the recruitment provisions of MEPA-IEP.
Two of the Bureau's adoption units are identifiable based on race and ethnicity: Tayari African-American Adoptions and Nuestros Ninos. During the initial phase of our review, members of a local child advocacy organization told OCR that the Bureau funnels adoption cases for African-American children to Tayari, unless the unit is full and the cases have to be redirected to other units. The advocates asserted that Tayari works exclusively with African-American children and applicants and permits children assigned to the unit to linger in foster care until social workers can find African-American homes for them.
Our initial investigation indicated that the Bureau generally assigned cases to units based on geography and case load, but with Tayari, assignments were also based on race. Most social workers in the unit were African-American and the Bureau assigned them an exclusively African-American case load. We also found that the Bureau assigned only African-American children to the unit, as had been its long-standing practice.
The Bureau's criteria for placement of children within Tayari were not neutral with regard to race. The practice of segregating African-American children and applicants in one unit could present a ready opportunity for race matching and for bypassing applicants of other races from consideration.
During the course of the review, we told the Bureau about our concern with Tayari's apparently segregated services. We attempted to resolve conflicting information that we had about its placement practices. In the fall of 2001, the Bureau told us that it had reorganized the Tayari unit. The Bureau no longer assigns cases for children to the unit and has relocated child workers to other units. Tayari currently exists only as a recruitment and applicant approval unit that seeks to address the shortage of African-American applicants. Its recruitment activities are separate from its placement practices. While African-American applicants may choose to receive services through Tayari, they can receive services through other units. African-American applicants are therefore not segregated in a separate unit. As will be discussed further below, the Bureau's placement procedures appear to provide protections against any group receiving preferential treatment after recruitment.
The Bureau assigns cases to the Nuestros Ninos unit based on geography, language need, and case load. Because Nuestros Ninos is located in a geographical area with many Hispanic people, most of the children and applicants served by the unit are Hispanic. The unit also serves non-Hispanic clients who live in the service area. Most social workers assigned to the unit speak Spanish, but some do not. The racial and ethnic composition of the unit's staff is mixed. The Bureau assigns Hispanic children and applicants who are bilingual to workers who speak only English. If the unit has additional space on its case load, the Bureau will assign English only speaking clients to bilingual workers.
The Bureau's criteria for assigning clients and workers to Nuestros Ninos appear to have a neutral impact based on ethnicity. The language needs of clients and the language abilities of workers are legitimate factors for case assignments. Hispanic clients are not segregated in or funneled to Nuestros Ninos. Both bilingual and monolingual Hispanic clients can receive services, including language services, in the geographical area where they live. Hispanic clients do not appear to be matched with Hispanic workers based on ethnicity. The ethnic composition of staff is mixed and the unit does not restrict its services to Hispanic clients.
In March 2001, we found a web site description of Nuestros Ninos that stated in part, "Nuestros Ninos works primarily in placing Hispanic children in ethnically matched homes." We informed the Bureau that this statement directly contradicts the requirements of Title VI and MEPA-IEP by blatantly identifying ethnicity as a primary and routine factor for consideration in placement decisions. The Bureau asserted that the statement was a carry-over from outdated information about Nuestros Ninos that was erroneously entered by the County onto its web site. The Bureau had the County remove the statement.
MEPA-IEP prohibits the use of blanket procedures that apply race, ethnic or cultural considerations to all children or applicants because of their race or ethnicity. The Bureau historically assessed the ability of all applicants who expressed an interest in adopting children of a different race or ethnicity through a cultural assessment tool. This practice ran counter to individualized assessments. The Bureau eliminated the cultural tool after the enactment of MEPA-IEP.
The evidence indicates that the Bureau follows standardized factors for home study assessments of both matched (child already in the home) and unmatched adoptive applicants. For unmatched assessments, applicant workers may use a Structured Applicant Family Evaluation (SAFE) desk guide produced by the California Department of Social Services as an assessment tool. The guide defines physical, psychological, and social factors that workers should consider when developing a home study report. The assessment tool is neutral with respect to race and ethnicity. The Bureau does not impose any additional written standards or requirements to its evaluations of prospective parents who seek to adopt children of another race or ethnicity.
Statistical data shows that the Bureau places children in adoptive homes that are racially and ethnically different from the child. During our most recent on-site visit, we reviewed adoption case files for children and applicants currently in the system. We selected files for Caucasian applicants who had expressed an interest in adopting African-American and Hispanic children. We also selected files for African-American and Hispanic children where there appeared to be lengthy delays from termination of parental rights to adoptive placement.
Our review showed that many factors contributed to delays in placements. Reasons included failed relative placements and the unavailability of a home that could meet the child's age and disability-related needs. The evidence indicated that reasonable and nondiscriminatory reasons accounted for delays.
The applicant files that we reviewed contained no cultural assessment tools. The home studies showed a clear pattern of uniform information and were free of references to race and ethnicity or an applicant's general ability care for children of another race or ethnicity.
We also reviewed files for adoptive applicants that the Bureau had placed in an on-hold status. On-hold applicants are applicants who wish to adopt but for various reasons are not currently under consideration. The Bureau's reasons for placing applicants on hold ranged from the applicant having moved, applicant health changes, safety hazards in the home, and the applicant being matched with a child elsewhere. We found no evidence that the Bureau placed an applicant on-hold for reasons of race or ethnicity.
Following implementation MEPA-IEP, the Agency informed staff of the legislative changes, provided them with the law, and distributed an informational memorandum on MEPA-IEP from the Administration for Children and Families. Despite the written guidance, interviews that OCR conducted with staff showed that social workers lacked a clear understanding of MEPA-IEP requirements and how to incorporate them into their placement practices. In response to OCR's expressed concerns that workers needed training to effectively implement the law, the Bureau provided comprehensive MEPA-IEP training to its staff. OCR participated in the training. The Bureau continues to offer its staff MEPA-IEP training opportunities.
The Agency offers standardized parent training classes at all of its program sites. Applicants can choose the class location most convenient for them. Nuestros Ninos offers classes in Spanish and in English. The Bureau gives prospective parents the opportunity to participate in a cross-race and ethnicity parent education class. Participation is strictly voluntary. The Bureau policy is to proceed with an adoptive placement even when the applicant has not participated in the class.
Good social work practice requires the Bureau to take into consideration the attitudes of a prospective parent toward improving their parenting skills. This might include exploring the reasons why a prospective parent chose not to participate in offered training. Bureau staff stressed to us that the Bureau's policy is to only consider a prospective parent's resistance or reluctance to participate in training within the context of an individualized placement decision and only from the standpoint of assessing parenting skills.
Placement Selection Procedure
The Bureau follows an "order of preference" policy that gives first consideration for adoption of unmatched children to those prospective parents who first applied to adopt. The policy provides neutral criteria for decision making and serves as a safeguard against discriminatory placements based on race or ethnicity.
The Bureau's placement selection procedures require all adoptive placements to be approved by a committee. The committee consists of supervisory child and applicant social workers. The committee meets weekly and reviews child profiles and home studies, identifies applicants for child workers to consider, reviews and scrutinizes the placement choices of child workers, and approves final placement decision. Mandatory committee review and approval insures that workers cannot screen and match children with applicants from within their own units. An adoptive placement cannot be finalized without committee review and approval.
The committee acts as an oversight body to monitor the placement practices of individual social workers, to identify problems that may impede a child's placement, and to recommend actions that will expedite an appropriate placement. We attended a committee meeting in January 2002, and observed first-hand the committee process. The committee review process establishes impartiality in applicant selection and provides a counterbalance the possible prejudices of an individual worker.
In light of the above, we find that the Bureau has achieved compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and implementing regulation, 45 CFR Part 80 (Title VI), and the Interethnic the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (MEPA-IEP). We have closed this review effective the date of this letter.
The Bureau shall not intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any person who testified, assisted, or participated in the investigation of the matters addressed in this letter.
OCR may release this document and related materials consistent with the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, and its implementing regulation 45 CFR Part 5.
We appreciate the cooperation of your staff in this review, and particularly that of Ms. Sharon Harrington. If you have any questions, please telephone Marlo Sagatelian at (415) 437-8326 or me at 437-8310.
Ira C. Pollack
cc: Sharon Harrington, Chief
Sharon M. Fujii, Regional Administrator
Administration on Children and Families