Groups take aim at disparities facing African-Americans

URBANA – A little less than a quarter of Champaign County children – about 22 percent – are African-American. Yet that ethnic group accounts for 63 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Urbana, 60 percent of child-welfare cases, 81 percent of discipline referrals in Champaign schools, and 82 percent of admissions to the county's juvenile detention center.

That's known as "disproportionality," and groups from all three systems that serve children in trouble – schools, child-welfare agencies and juvenile justice – got together Tuesday to see how they could work together to eliminate it.

Angela Hassell, placement supervisor at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, organized the day-long "Beyond Obstacles" forum at the Urbana Civic Center with the goal of "mobilizing Champaign County to eliminate the disparities facing African-American families."

"We're all working with the same children," she said.

The forum was sponsored by Saving Our Families Together Today, formed in 2007 to keep families "together and safe."

Robert Blackwell, regional administrator for DCFS, said he hears "a lot of complaints from families" about bias and constraints imposed on them in the complex child-welfare system.

DCFS and other state child-welfare agencies failed a federal review a few years ago, prompting them to begin a new emphasis on "permanency" – a permanent, nurturing family for every child.

Blackwell said the problem can only be solved by addressing underlying issues in society, notably "structural racism." People have talked for years about cultural sensitivity and diversity, yet it's still a problem, he said. His department is trying to eliminate racism "in what we do and how we make decisions," such as how it responds to an abuse report and who makes placement decisions.

"We think a work force that is race-informed will be a stronger work force, and produce better outcomes for all children in care," he said.

Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz, who has extensive experience with child-welfare, truancy and juvenile justice cases, says her top priority is not to put children in jail but keep them out of the court system whenever possible. Prosecutors in general have realized "we're not helping our community if we focus our energies on locking people up. Those people come back," she said, and if they don't get support services they'll make the same bad decisions again.

Rietz said she bases her decision on whether to prosecute a case on behavior, not race. She said she's been pressured by some in the community to label the recent attacks by young men on campus and elsewhere as "hate crimes," but refused.

"I can't say that, and I'm not going to stir that pot," Rietz said. "Quite frankly I don't think it's a race issue. I think it's a behavioral issue."

The county runs a court-diversion program, funded by a quarter-cent sales tax, to help keep juveniles out of the court system. They're given a chance to accept responsibility for their behavior and make restitution or perform community service, with the hope that they'll avoid a criminal record and move forward, she said.

Another program, Parenting with Love and Limits, offers family-based counseling for minors and their parents, and it's proved effective for white and black families alike.

"If you can't fix the family as a whole, you're not going to fix the problem," she said.

Rietz said it might be time to bring back the idea of "family conferencing" to find solutions in child-welfare cases, which was considered years ago but "never really got anywhere."

Walker said involving families is paramount, a concept also adopted by the Champaign County Mental Health Board's multimillion-dollar Project ACCESS. He said DCFS calls it "coming off the porch and going into the yard."

Rietz also said agencies should respond much earlier to truancy problems, long before a case ends up in court.

"By the time we address it at a high school level, a lot of kids have missed so much school they can't catch up," she said.

Both school districts have community liaisons and outreach staff who work to keep kids in school and on track for graduation, officials said. They also are working on alternatives to out-of-school suspensions and special education, where black students are overrepresented.

Orlando Thomas, director of achievement and pupil services in Champaign, cited the relatively low number of black students in honors classes and said that "achievement gap" starts early. Preschoolers who are read to 20 minutes a day start kindergarten with a 10,000-word vocabulary, compared to 500 words for those who aren't. Parents need to get involved, through volunteering, PTA and help at home, he said.

Jean Korder, curriculum director for Urbana schools, said the effects of poverty can't be underestimated. The number of low-income students has grown "exponentially" in recent years, she said.

Some programs have helped, such as a "bridge program" for high school students on the verge of failing, she said.

Hassell said she hopes the forum will prompt participants to take small steps to reassess their work "so we can begin to keep families together. It's not a change overnight. We're breaking new ground here."

Comments

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jdmac44 wrote on October 27, 2010 at 9:10 am

I'm not trying to stir the pot either, but if 22 (what's the count now?) black people were attacked in the course of a month and a half by predominantly white people, Champaign-Urbana, IL would be a media hot spot on the level of Hurricane Katrina with every civil rights group and soap box preacher in the country setting up camp here setting up Million Man March II. I'm honestly not one to make a big deal out of the racial factor, but when I hear that it's not one at all, I cannot hold my tongue. Those individuals had a choice of who they preyed on and any statistician will tell you that it wasn't random. This is important, because if race is a factor, it's not going to go away by itself, there's another element to be considered and dealt with.

androidscr wrote on October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

"A little less than a quarter of Champaign County children – about 22 percent – are African-American. Yet that ethnic group accounts for 63 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Urbana, 60 percent of child-welfare cases, 81 percent of discipline referrals in Champaign schools, and 82 percent of admissions to the county's juvenile detention center."

What does that paragraph tell you? Even though "African-American" (I use that term very loosely) children are the minority in schools they are still the biggest problem. These types of problems start at home because of how they are raised. When you have parents that feel the world owes them something they pass it on to the kids and the cycle never ends.

You will continue to hear the "African-American" shout foul, racism, unfairness, profiling or something as excuses to why these trends continue.

Just get over yourself (and your race) and do your best to become a productive member of society.

personali wrote on October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

It sure would be nice if this segment of the black population accepted responsibility for their problems rather than blaming others. I know this is not the case across the board but come on. How are those figures “disproportional” when the race of the offender is black? Oh wait, I am sure you are assuming the white offender was not punished right? Sure. Maybe they would like to substitute a white person, would that make these people feel better? How about the mothers and fathers of these black children discipline them or even just accept some responsbility.

How about we start drug testing welfare receipants? Lets start there. I am tired of having tax dollars wasted on people that do not want to help themselves! I am tired of having people that do not want to provide for a better society! I am tired of hearing about how race is the underlying problem for everything that is wrong!

Lets enact some more affirmative action or more programs aimed at only one segment of the population. Or how about we forget about any merit related testing or requirements at all. Lets all "hug trees" and live in a world of make believe.

ajbuckle wrote on October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

So what did we learn from this article:

1. Black kids beating white people bloody while shouting racist epithets is entirely behavioral. It has nothing to do with race.
2. Our society, which taxes us to provide social services. The child-welfare services are overwhelmingly provided to blacks (60%). But, taxing all of society to provide a benefit primarily to a minority is structurally racist against blacks. It has everything to do with race.

Here is what the article failed to mention:

1. Blacks commit violent crimes at roughly 5x the rate as whites. (Source: FBI - Uniform Crime Report)

Do you think that this unreported fact may have any relationship with the high rate of out-of-school suspensions in our black population? Is Champaign's rate of out-of-school suspension actually better than the national average for blacks?

Mike Howie wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am
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Nothing in the police reports pertaining to these attacks indicates any racial epithets of any kind have been used.

John O'Connor wrote on October 27, 2010 at 10:10 am

Yet again, a story on a racial issue brings up racial animosity from the dregs. Why is that some white people have to jump at every chance they get to attack an entire group of people? Most welfare recipients are white. Most of the crime in this community is committed by white people. But some white people only want to talk about the behavior of black people.

And then they say racism is over and all in the past and that everyone should just get over it.

ajbuckle wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

John,
It is easy to throw around charges of racism. But, like any accusation, it is important to have some basis for your charge.

The writers here are not attacking anybody, they are trying to defend themselves against the further taxation required to pay services to a local black population that is violently attacking them with clear racist intent.

jeharmon wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

John O' conner - Are you reading the same article as the rest of us ??

Mike Howie wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am
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Please address comments to the story. Comments critical of others will be deleted.

androidscr wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

"How about we start drug testing welfare receipants?" - personali

I see no reference to race here and there is no denying that there are undesirable people in all races (I also agree that everyone on welfare should be drug tested). The point being made by myself (I cannot speak for everyone) is: When you break it down by numbers, it's hard to understand that if race isn't a factor then why does the minority still make up the biggest problem. Lets say there are 200 white people with 50 of them in jail and 50 black people with only 25 in jail, that still makes the minority a much larger problem in the big picture.

IU1977 wrote on October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

Mr. Howie-

I guess you missed your own newspapers story of the attack behind the bar on main street in which the victim, from Mahomet, specifically stated that the suspects used racial slurs during the beating against him.

While they may not be shouting "kill whitey" during the attack, what would you call ALL of these attacks being made against White Males by Black Males? Just coincidence? Get your head out fo the sand and realize what it is all about.