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It has been argued that the confusion of African American child rearing techniques with abuse is at least partially responsible for the fact that African American children are grossly over represented in the foster care system across the United States (2). While they make up only 15% of the population African American children comprise approximately 27% of the reported cases of abuse. Furthermore, as they progress through the system their over representation increases. Currently about 50% of the 250,000 children in foster care are African American . This means that while only 9% of the white children reported for abuse ends up in foster care, 24% of the African American children reported for abuse ends up in foster care. If we take into account that African American children are reported at a rate almost double their representation in the population in the first place, the result is that African American children are being removed from their families at a rate that is almost five times higher than that of white children.(2) The literature also indicates that, in addition to coming into care more _frequently, African American children remain in care longer and may receive fewer desirable placements than white children (2). McCray's book "Freedom's Child" argues that the African American preference for physical discipline not only leads to a higher rate of reported cases of abuse, and thus a higher rate of initial contact with social services than white families, but that the cultural nature of the African American preference for physical discipline results in an unwillingness on the part of African American parents to alter their parenting styles.
"Freedoms Child" shows African American parents who believe in the validity of their own parenting styles, a belief supported by most members of their own community, will not welcome the claims of white social workers that they are abusing their children. In our data African American parents repeatedly tell their social workers that they will continue to use physical discipline. We believe that it is this adherence to a set of traditional cultural values with regard to child rearing that is resulting in the current high rate of interference by social service agencies with African American families and children (3).
Because the African American extended family still exists as an important ideal in the African American community, McCray's book "Freedom's Child" included an effort to rebuild and strengthen extended family ties within the community (3). Unlike white parents who tend to seek out and be influenced by professional advice on child rearing techniques (1), African American families tend to rely on informal networks of information on a range of topics from child rearing techniques to mental health issues. Therefore, a breakdown in intergenerational communication between agency families and community elders might be leaving agency parents without an information referral network. The elders who volunteered to act as mentors to our families and share their child rearing experiences with them became part of the effort to strengthen the families through "intergenerational mentoring." Many of the families who had been referred to the agency had become relatively isolated from extended family ties. It seemed that in some cases this was their primary problem. It was felt that the intergenerational support that the elder volunteers could provide would be important for these families. ...
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