Understanding racial disproportionality affecting African American Youth who cross over from the child welfare to the juvenile justice system: Communication, power, race and social class

Jane M Marshall, Wendy Haight

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

This qualitative study, part of a larger ethnography, examines reasons for racial disproportionality affecting African American youth who cross over from child welfare to juvenile justice system involvement from the perspectives of professionals who work within these systems. During individual, semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews, 33 African American and European American child welfare, law enforcement and court professionals discussed why African American youth are disproportionately represented among crossover youth. Responses were analyzed from the perspective of ecological systems theory informed by sociocultural/social language and critical race theories. Professionals described differences in the routine, culturally-based patterns of face-to-face communications of lower-income, African American youth and their families and professionals working within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems that contribute to racial disproportionality among crossover youth. More specifically, when youth and their families employ language and behaviors that are not preferred in child welfare and juvenile justice contexts, professionals may make negative assumptions about them and sanction them more severely than called for by their offenses. Such negative outcomes are more likely to occur when professionals are working in highly stressful or dangerous situations. When problematic interactions and outcomes seem consonant with longstanding patterns of racial tension within the community, some youth and family members can develop distrust, hostility and resistance towards professionals. Some professionals are resistant to addressing issues of race relations. Understanding patterns of communication, power and race relations in the contexts of child welfare, law enforcement, and the courts generates fresh insights for explaining racial disproportionality affecting African American youth and has implications for professionals working towards positive change for youth and families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-90
Number of pages9
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Volume42
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2014

Keywords

  • Child welfare
  • Communication
  • Crossover youth
  • Juvenile justice
  • Racial disproportionality
  • Racism

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