Representation Matters: child well-being requires a diverse workforce
Every year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes the KIDS COUNT® Data Book. Given all the challenges of COVID, it was inspiring to read that in the 2021 book Minnesota ranked third for child well-being. Yet, as we see time and again, when you dig a little deeper and disaggregate the data, it’s not all kids in Minnesota who are doing well. There are pronounced disparities for Indigenous, Black and Children of Color, and their families.
At the Sauer Family Foundation, we believe in racial equity; we achieve this when race no longer determines a child’s life outcomes. That means working to reduce disparities in the systems where we invest and furthering our mission to strengthen the well-being of children, so they thrive in their families and communities.
Increased representation is an effective way to change systems. The Children’s Bureau says this about diversity in the child welfare workforce: Although it is neither possible nor necessarily desirable to match all caseworkers and clients by race or ethnicity, child welfare staff who share or understand the culture or language of a particular family may have a better comprehension of the family’s background and needs. Therefore, hiring a diverse staff, particularly one that mirrors the racial and ethnic composition of the community served, can help with family engagement, and reduce opportunities for cross-racial misunderstandings or tensions. 1
On the surface, that doesn’t sound too hard – but hiring a diverse staff requires a diverse and representative candidate pool. In Minnesota, that’s something we’re lacking in child welfare, in children’s mental health and in education. This is why we are investing in the systems where we award grants to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of Minnesota’s children.
That means that we’re looking at how structural barriers such as unpaid clinical hours, field work or student teaching can prevent candidates from attaining a license. How do we ensure that mentoring and support for new professionals outside the dominant culture is available and relevant? Are there best practices in alternate pathways that we can learn from and grow in Minnesota?
We are proud to be working with innovative partners like Black Men Teach; the Pathways program at Washburn Center for Children and Augsburg University to support new Indigenous, Black and Professionals of Color on their journey.