Thanks to $2 million from a Minnesota-based nonprofit, the Rock County Human Services Department could reduce racial disparities in the child welfare system, which a department official said are “significant.”
The funds from the St. Paul-based Alia Innovations will come over three years, said Kate Luster, department director. The money will pay for a project director, a “community cultivator,” consultation with national experts and flexible funding that could help families cover housing and other expenses.
Luster said implementation of this effort started in April when officials began recruiting for the two fulltime positions. The hires have been made and will be starting soon.
The $2 million came from a “private foundation” and through Alia, which Rock County has worked with before, she said.
There has been a “huge shift and change” in the attention paid to child welfare generally, Luster said, as more people working in the arena agree the system isn’t working for many children.
“Separating children from their families as the solution (to abuse and neglect) does not produce positive outcomes for kids,” she said. “The research increasingly shows that the child welfare system as it exists is not effective in helping kids and families the way we all want it to.”
The three goals that human services has for this initiative are to eliminate racial disparities in out-of-home placement throughout the county, reduce the number of kids who are placed outside of their families or apart from someone they know, and increase the level of satisfaction and engagement families have with the department.
Luster said only 9% of youth in the county are Black, yet Black children accounted for 21.1% of kids placed in residential care centers in 2019 and 39.5% in 2018.
“In Rock County, we have a particular priority around addressing racial disparities and responding to the needs of the community around systemic racism and how that shows up in programs that the human services department administers,” she said. “In Rock County, we have significant racial disparities in child welfare.”
The grant will pay for training and provide access to national experts that the county wouldn’t get otherwise, Luster said.
The focus of the funding aligns with the department’s recent addition of an equity manager, she added. But Luster noted that matters of diversity and inclusion can’t be the responsibility of just one person.
“It is everybody’s job,” she said.