by Julie Barbosa
Permanency Action Teams harness community resources to identify ways to improve permanency and ensure African-American children are well-served by the child welfare system. The DeKalb field office serves as the hub for this effort in Northern Region. In DeKalb County, approximately six percent of youth are African-American, according to census data. Yet they accounted for 27 percent of the children taken into DCFS custody when the action team was first initiated. The DeKalb permanency action team (DPAT) has been working on ways to reduce the disproportion in that statistic. Permanency Action Teams are deployed across the state. They are collaborations among DCFS, parents in the community, organizations that serve families, schools, and members of law enforcement and the judicial system. The voices of these key stakeholders combine to address important issues for children and their families. The DPAT identified several factors that could be contributing to the disproportionality in DeKalb. Then the group set two high priority action goals that the DPAT chose to work on: Community Conversations and Parent Outreach.
The DPAT determined that it is important to initiate conversations and educate people within the community on disproportionality and child welfare as a starting point. When people understand how this problem impacts everyone in the community, more people will be moved to act in ways to overcome and resolve this problem. To achieve this objective, the team is seeking people to coordinate meetings in community locations such as church congregations, school districts, community service providers, parent groups or other public venues.
As a second objective, the DPAT intends to support families in the community so they can promote the healthy growth and development of all of the children in community. One way to do this is to help parents access resources that they need. The team coordinates meetings with parents as a starting point to connect parents to each other and to the community. One tool that has proven successful is the “Parent Cafe” model where individuals can have open discussions led by a facilitator who can effectively draw out the needs. The DPAT has already sponsored several Parent Cafes, a Community Cafe, and various presentations to local agencies. Currently the DPAT has active participation from many community members, including concerned parents and citizens living in the community, police personnel, city of DeKalb personnel, religious leaders, school personnel, juvenile court personnel, and social service agency personnel.
The first DPAT leader was Julie Barbosa, serving in that role from 2008 until 2013. The first few years were difficult, as the membership of the team was inconsistent. Through trial and error and a great deal of persistence on the part of Barbosa, the team started to grow and develop. Barbosa was aware that there were people in Dekalb committed to helping children and families in the community and they just needed to be brought to the table. Over time, a solid group of community members began to consistently attend the action team meetings. With committed people, the team was able to begin carrying out meaningful actions and events in pursuit of the action goals outlined above.
The most recent statistics provided to the action team show that the rates of disproportionality regarding African American children in Dekalb County have decreased. Previously 27 percent of the children removed from their homes were African American and now that percentage is down to 18. Since the percentage of children in Dekalb County that are African American is still only around 6 percent, disproportionality still exists in Dekalb County, although it has decreased. The DPAT members are committed to continuing these and other activities until the statistics no longer show disproportionate outcomes for African-American children in DeKalb County. To learn more or to get involved in DPAT activities contact Kevin Gehl in the DeKalb Field Office at 815-787-5300.